The University of South Carolina football program needed new direction. Halfway through the 2016 season, the team looked lost and down hard. Will Muschamp found himself in a difficult, precarious position. His vanilla offenses barely managed to put up two touchdowns a game. All offseason, critics had predicted Muschamp’s old demons from Florida continued to haunt him. It seemed as if their predictions had come to fruition. He had started a senior quarterback and a dual-threat freshman. Neither clicked with the offense.
During the bye week, Coach Muschamp mashed that big red button and burned a redshirt. He unleashed his wild card in pro-style freshman quarterback Jake Bentley. A lightbulb came on with the offense with the young signal caller under center. He dominated a highly favored Tennessee team in his first SEC contest. He demonstrated excellent poise in the pocket. Though he took some hits and sacks, he refused to be rattled.
However, that year’s Palmetto Bowl showed the young passer still had some work ahead of him. Rattled, battered, and bruised, he left the field at the half. Even so, he bounced back in a bowl game against the South Florida Bulls. Though it ended in a narrow defeat, Bentley played his best game up to that point.
In 2017, some pundits projected Jake to slip into a sophomore slump. In spite of head-scratching defeats at the hands of Kentucky and the Aggies, Bentley had his act together. He began to scramble at times, proving he would do whatever was necessary to help his team. Then the Gamecocks ventured to Athens, Georgia, the den of the top-ranked Bulldogs. USC refused to be clobbered and held in there. Other than Notre Dame and Auburn, no other team gave Georgia as tough a game during the regular season. Bentley out-threw his counterpart Fromm in the contest. However, he threw two picks, somewhat out of character for him up to that point.
Following the UGA game, Bentley’s play seemed to grow sloppy. Interceptions and head-scratching missed passes increased, mistakes that had previously been almost nonexistent.
These errors came to a head against Clemson. Once again, Bentley appeared scared and lost. Two interceptions and a mere 126 yards passing set the tone for a humiliating 34-10 defeat for the fourth consecutive Palmetto Bowl.
In the Outback Bowl, Bentley looked dazed from the rivalry game until the second half. He cleared the cobwebs and threw for 239 yards and two scores against one pick.
No quarterback is perfect. No doubt the man for the job up to this point, I attest without a doubt the South Carolina football team would not have made a bowl in 2016. They may not have in 2017. Gamecock nation would be howling for Muschamp to be let go. The offense would likely still be putting up 17 points a game.
With the hiring of Dan Werner as quarterbacks coach, hopefully Jake can polish up his act. With Werner as his tutor, hopefully Bentley will get the help he needs in developing into the perfect, all-SEC quarterback for the South Carolina football team.