He works as hard as the two quarterbacks ahead of him, but most of the playing time he gets is cleanup at best. He could have only dreamed about the all the time he got Saturday.
The redshirt sophomore saw his most extensive action of the season in the Gamecocks’ first game back from their open date. Playing the final two and a half quarters, he kept the offense together to complete a 34-14 victory over Tennessee Tech that did wonders to jump start the second half of JSU's season.
With Max Shortell dressed out but unavailable because of a knee injury, the Gamecocks (6-2, 2-2 OVC) went into the game with only two quarterbacks. Eli Jenkins started but got hurt midway through the second quarter. West played the rest of the game and directed the Gamecocks to 24 points in a game they already seemed to have safely in hand.
West completed 11 of 17 passes for 138 yards and threw the first two touchdown passes of his career -- to Earl Calloway and Anthony Johnson, a pair of freshmen seeing their time increase because of injuries to other receivers. He had a 171.72 passer rating.
“I hate to copy Tim Tebow, but it was fun. It was really exciting,” West said. “Coach told me to stay ready. He’s told me all year just to stay ready. You never know what can happen. The chance finally came.
“I prepare myself every week like I’m the starter, whether I’m the third-string guy, the second-string guy or the first-string guy. I didn’t expect to have anything, but I was ready just in case something did happen.”
And it did. Jenkins took a shot to the ribs sometime in the second quarter, left the game with JSU leading 10-0 and didn’t return to the bench area the rest of the chilly afternoon.
He watched the end of it from the tunnel in street clothes. He nodded in the affirmative when asked in passing if he was feeling all right.
West had seen his most playing time previously in games against North Alabama and Tennessee State. He has drawn raves for his handling of the two-minute offense, but had never been entrusted with the so much management of a game until Saturday. He entered having thrown only 18 passes this year.
The Gamecocks tried to make things as easy on Jenkins and West as possible, sticking to the things both do best.
Shortell is the No. 1, but the coaches decided to keep him out another week to rest the right knee he sprained in the Tennessee State game. Wearing a brace and limping noticeably in pregame warmups, Shortell was in uniform but spent his time holding the signal cards for the offense.
Jenkins completed 7 of 11 passes for 77 yards and rushed for 37 yards and the Gamecocks’ first touchdown. In the first half, he and West were a combined 12-of-16 for 182 yards.
After Jenkins got hurt, it was decided to leave the game in West’s hands.
“We thought he could come back, but he just couldn’t be comfortable, and Kyle was playing good,” JSU coach Bill Clark said.
West said he was prepared for any possibility.
The former walk-on directed the Gamecocks to 265 yards of offense and touchdowns on the first two possessions he played.
“The thing you love about this guy, and coach (John) Grass said it to be before the game, he’s always ready,” Clark said. “He didn’t do great last game, but he didn’t let that hold him down.”
West threw a 35-yard pass to Calloway on a double move to extend the lead to 17-0, and DaMarcus James capped a quick drive with a 6-yard run 59 seconds before halftime that answered Tech’s first score.
James rushed for 126 yards on 31 carries . He also completed a 36-yard halfback pass in the first quarter. It was his third 100-yard game in the last four and the fifth straight game he has had at least one touchdown.
The JSU offense bogged down a little in the second half, but West brought it back to life when he threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Johnson with 4:22 to play. Johnson and Josh Barge both caught five passes in the game.
“We needed to finish up strong and got that score,” West said. “”I owe Anthony dinner for that one. I threw a pick, and he took it away from the guy.”
In the last few years under the previous staff, the Gamecocks struggled coming out of their open date.
This time, they spent the time working on fundamentals and recharging, and came out firing. They wound up with 450 yards of total offense and had no turnovers. The defense, meanwhile, turned up the heat on Tech’s patchwork offense.
The Gamecocks kept Tech quarterback Darian Stone under a heavy rush that forced him into an 8-of-23 passing day for 99 yards and sacked him four times. They kept the Golden Eagles (3-6, 0-5) off the board until the final five minutes of the first half.
“We knew what type of quarterback (Stone) was, so we tried our best to keep him contained and wherever he went we chased after him until we got him,” senior nose Barry Stafford said. “We knew going into the open week we had to do whatever he had to do to win the game, basically give it our all and make this win good for everybody.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.