Senior quarterback Marques Ivory underwent season-ending surgery Friday in Birmingham on the fractured right fibula he sustained in the second quarter of Thursday’s dramatic 24-23 season-opening conference win over UT Martin.
Although the one-hour operation was considered a success, Ivory is expected to miss the rest of the season, the school said. The Gamecocks will seek a medical redshirt for the senior, who has played in all three of his previous seasons with the team.
Interestingly, preseason all-conference offensive tackle Odie Rush had similar surgery three weeks ago, but he is expected to return at midseason. The team medical staff, headed by surgeon Dr. Larry Lemak, said they were “different types of injuries,” in addition to its severity and timing, athletic department spokesman Greg Seitz said.
Upon Ivory’s injury, the ninth-ranked Gamecocks immediately installed true sophomore Coty Blanchard as the starter for next week’s game at No. 21 Chattanooga and moved Thomas Darrah and Steven Coates up in the backup rotation. They will practice for the first time in that mode Monday after the coaching staff spends the Labor Day weekend trying to figure out how to make it work.
“I think we’ll be OK,” offensive coordinator Ronnie Letson said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who are good around him. The thing Coty has to realize — all the quarterbacks have to realize — is you don’t have to win the game for us, just put us in position to win it. You’ve got to let players make the plays for you. I have no doubt about those guys making a lot of plays.”
Head coach Jack Crowe concurred.
“We’re going to be OK,” Crowe said. “We’re going to miss Marques’ unique skill. He’s mentally very acute and physically a very effective passer. We put a lot of decision making (of) what we did at the line of scrimmage because he had the eyes of a coach he didn’t have when he was Coty’s age and was still playing behind Ryan Perrilloux. I don’t think we can turn around and say the next quarterback has that, but he has something else. I think (Blanchard’s) ability to take the ball and make plays with his legs is substantial.”
Ivory’s injury came in the aftermath of trying to throw a ball away following an ill-timed shotgun snap. He left the field under his own power, hopping across the field on his good leg, a scene that impressed the head coach. “He was in that warrior mode and wasn’t going to be down on that field,” Crowe said.
Ivory sustained a similar injury to his left leg as a senior in high school and returned later that year to lead his team to a state championship; the plate and screws remain in his leg. Mark Ivory, the quarterback’s father, called it “freakish” the way his son had the same injury on each leg.
Letson said Marques told him this injury wasn’t as swollen as the one in high school and “it doesn’t hurt as bad.”
The wall of the player’s Facebook page was filled with well wishes.
Ivory was winning his personal battle of the bulge to maintain his starting status, dropping some 40 pounds since the end of last season, but things were not going well on the field at the time of his injury. The Gamecocks trailed 17-7 and had only 82 yards of total offense. Ivory was 5-of-10 passing for 56 yards.
Blanchard played the rest of the game and engineered a rally from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit. The Gamecocks scored their winning points with 38 seconds to play.
Playing a career-high 47 snaps and not showing much rust from missing spring practice for baseball, the Cherokee County product threw for a career high 133 yards on 9-of-17 passing and accounted for 165 yards of offense. Letson said while the quarterback wasn’t perfect, “I thought he did well within the circumstances.”
After the game Blanchard said he was “ready to step into the (starter’s) role now, a lot moreso than I would have last year.”
Usually with such a dramatic change in experience comes a reduction in the playbook. The Gamecocks say they have no plans to trim the playbook, although the emphasis is expected to shift given Blanchard’s skill set.
“In preparation you try to put as much in as you would, but you find out what he can do and what he can handle and simplify it,” Letson said. “One thing we will do is cater to what he does best. There are some things in the book that Quez maybe isn’t as good at as Coty and didn’t have a major focal point in gameplan. Now there might be more of a focal point on what he does best. And Coty’s never been the guy who jumps in there and does the whole game either. It’l be a little bit of a feel process next week; how does he handle the whole game?”
Crowe admitted he might have sent “a wrong message” to Coates after Thursday’s game in telling the media Darrah now moves into Blanchard’s backup role. He reiterated Friday both quarterbacks would be involved.
Ivory started all 12 games last year and played in several games each of his first two seasons behind Perrilloux. Blanchard played in 12 games as a backup last year, most famously in the season-opening win at Ole Miss.
Darrah, a fifth-year senior, played briefly in two games last season, but saw his most extensive action in a JSU uniform in the 2011 spring game. Coates, a redshirt freshman, has yet to take a live snap. Coates’ skill set is more aligned with Blanchard, while Darrah’s is more aligned with Ivory.
“The thing we’re going to miss is (Ivory’s) seasoning, his savvyness, knowing he can get you in and out of bad plays,” Letson said. “Coty hadn’t had that many snaps — that comes with time — therefore we have to protect him a little bit and make sure we put him in good situations and ask him not to do too much. Make his checks black and white. Take the gray out for him.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.