This probably wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Justin Worley (or Incoming Hyped QB Recruit A) was supposed to get two years in the system, ideally three - but who'll fault Tyler Bray if next year turns into last year by his timeframe - before taking over as the new Jim Chaney Tool of Terror. (Failing that, there's always Incoming Hyped QB Recruit B, who we'll get to soon enough.) This is how it works with a dynasty; cogs fit into machines, and the process is maintained. Or that's how it's supposed to work.
Reality doesn't necessarily agree, though. For one, Bray had to go and get a broken finger. (This is leaving apart the toying of fate that was Justin Hunter's torn ACL.) For another, Matt Simms had to do his best to live up to the legacy of his older brother, which I don't know if I fault him for. Older brothers are supposed to be a positive influence, and sure enough, he was. Unfortunately, his definition of positive isn't the same as ours.
Now we're stuck with a true freshman QB, a charred shirt, an incoming opponent, and a season that's close to turning. No pressure, kid.
We're off the rails at this point. I don't think that's a statement that's particularly controversial, but losing your key players successively over the season can fling you toward the margins if there isn't much of a buffer. It's not up to Worley to bridge the gap between where we are now and where we thought we'd be; even the most optimistic among us (hi, Will!) aren't asking for Worley to bring the magic back. There aren't enough tools in the arsenal to do that, not yet. Not without seeing how Worley reads a defense, how he hits a receiver, if he can look off a safety, if he can change blocking schemes, if he can do something that looks like leading this team from under center or in the shotgun. We don't know these things, and we won't before Saturday.
And you know what? I'm looking forward to it. We're sitting on an excellent talent or two who are waiting to come back from injury; it's the best thing in the world to have competition. It's up to Da'Rick Rogers and DeAnthony Arnett to blossom into legitimate options regardless of the quarterback, and absent them who's going to challenge a healthy Justin Hunter? Still, they won't learn without a positive Worley, and the team won't get better without a non-destructive presence under center.
It probably doesn't help matters that the first team he faces will also sport the best defense we'll face the rest of this year, but he's not going to learn unless his feet get put to the fire at some point, will he? Rather than worrying about being a game manager - a phrase I hate; a game manager is the guy behind the counter at your local GameStop - Worley's going to have to lead this team to victory at some point, right? I mean, that's the plan, I hope.
But it's dangerous to go alone. He'll have Tauren Poole, Mychal Rivera, and a somewhat-revitalized run-blocking offensive line (I still don't know if that was Simms or the team just spending a lot more attention on the run game; both ideas make sense, and I suspect it's both but with an emphasis on the latter) helping him. And, at the end of the day, if we emerge victorious it'll be on the arm of a true freshman making his first start against a top-25 team.
Why can't he do that? It won't be the weirdest thing we've seen this year. I can't rationalize how, or figure out how, or show you a bunch of charts and plays that are things that Worley can do that Bray can't. But if we're off the rails, the least we can do is plow into a crowd of innocent Gamecocks along the way.