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The strangest story in college football is adding another chapter.
With the news Tuesday that Luke Doty is out for the season after aggravating a foot injury that forced him to miss the first two games of the season, Zeb Noland is once again South Carolina’s QB1.
Beamer told reporters during his Sunday teleconference that Noland would be the starter this weekend against No. 17 Texas A&M. Now it appears it’ll be his offense for the rest of the fall barring something unforeseen.
“Hate it for him, hate for our football team,” Beamer said of Doty. “But he’s in great spirits.”
Noland’s story has permeated throughout college football. He came to South Carolina over the summer as a graduate assistant. In the wake of Doty’s initial injury, he was added to the roster to bolster depth at quarterback. Noland took that chance and earned the starting quarterback spot over FCS transfer Jason Brown and freshman Colten Gauthier.
In two-plus games this season, Noland has been largely efficient. He’s completed 32 of 55 passes for 482 yards and six touchdowns to just one interception. The Gamecocks have also won three of the four games he’s appeared in — including his made-for-a-movie final drive Saturday against Vanderbilt.
Beamer quipped with reporters he’s not sure whether Lifetime or Disney will pick up Noland’s story after the season, but his heroic game-winning drive this past week that sank the Commodores ought to be a major plot point.
As a refresher, Noland was thrust into the contest on South Carolina’s final posession after Doty proved largely ineffective and — after the fact — informed the coaching staff his foot had been bothering him since the second quarter, Beamer said later.
Noland responded by connecting on five of his eight passes, marching the Gamecocks 75 yards and finding Xavier Legette for a 9-yard touchdown pass with just over 30 seconds remaining to steal a startling win in Columbia.
“It’s those moments you dream of as a kid,” he said postgame. “You always think about it. I’m in my whatever year of playing, and you still dream about those moments. Even at practice every day, you think about making those throws and doing your job, and that’s what it came down to.”
While Doty’s play has fluctuated of late, fans and pundits have called for another look for Noland at quarterback. After all, the most popular player on a struggling team is the backup quarterback.
Noland hasn’t been a complete world beater in his appearances. It’s only been a handful of weeks since keyboard cowboys celebrated the return of Doty so that they could be spared another game with Noland under center.
The former Bison signal-caller currently ranks sixth in the Southeastern Conference in adjusted net passing yards per SEC StatCat despite his limited chances. By those same metrics, his big passing plays percentage (number of throws over 35 yards out of his total completions) ranks fourth among all league quarterbacks.
“Let’s forget about and lose the the narrative that he hasn’t played a football game in two or three years and he was walking up and down the halls like Uncle Rico, talking about what he did back in the day as a quarterback,” Beamer joked in August, referencing the quirky character out of “Napoleon Dynamite.” “... He’s played in a college football game a hell of a lot more recently than anybody on our team.”
Beamer told reporters on Sunday Noland had continued to rep regularly with the first and second team after Doty’s return. That workload should increase some now that he’s atop the depth chart again.
Behind Noland, Beamer said Tuesday Brown will be the No. 2 quarterback going forward and Dakereon Joyner — who came to South Carolina as a four-star QB recruit — will remain at receiver. Beamer added Gauthier has impressed as the season has gone on working with the scout team.
“He’s a competitor,” Beamer said. “Him and some of those guys (on scout team) going against our defense, they try and destroy our defense every day over there. Colten’s showing great leadership over there and really taking advantage of his reps mentally and physically”
With five games remaining and needing two wins to reach bowl eligibility, the storybook ending Noland, Beamer and the Gamecock faithful hope for is still there for the taking. Plenty of that falls on the man who four months ago wasn’t expected to slip on his shoulder pads this fall, let alone start under center.
Beamer said in recent weeks that the 2021 Gamecocks are still writing their story. Starting Saturday, Noland has a chance to write one heck of a closing act.