Throw age out the window when it comes to SEC quarterbacks. If Alabama’s Jalen Hurts wasn’t proof enough, 18-year-old Jake Bentley added a big helping of credence to that theory on Saturday.
The freshman could only show so much during South Carolina’s sleepy noon matchup with visiting UMass, the first game of his college career. But the Gamecocks can take one massive positive away from their ugly 34-28 win.
Bentley is equipped to run this offense right now, and with time he can become the most dangerous passer to play for head coach Will Muschamp.
Efficient? Check. Bentley completed 17 of 26 passes for 201 yards and 2 touchdowns, and the offense had a season-high 395 total yards. Eight different Gamecocks made at least one catch.
Talent? Cross that off the list, too. Both of Bentley’s touchdown passes came on beautiful fade-route connections in the end zone — on third down, no less. He also connected on seven passes of 10-plus yards. Tere were plenty of screens and checkdown throws, sure, but there’s little question whether he has the arm.
South Carolina may have a good one in true freshman QB Jake Bentley https://t.co/vLkUMVjJWg
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) October 22, 2016
Two plays in particular stood out as strong indicators of the former 4-star’s potential. On South Carolina’s last possession of the game, Bentley and company took over nursing a 6-point lead. The defense had just allowed a 15-play, 74-yard touchdown drive. The special teams miscues continued after that, as AJ Turner bobbled the return and could only reach the 11-yard line.
First down. Bentley, under pressure, evades his pursuers and points for Deebo Samuel to block for him on the perimeter. A possible sack turns into a 6-yard gain.
Second down. Bentley knifes a bullet behind three UMass defenders and into the hands of Samuel, who picks up 25 yards.
The Gamecocks ground game whittled away the minutes left on the clock to secure the win. But what Bentley showed on those two plays was infinitely more important than win No. 3 in this season of transition.
The coach’s son — Bobby Bentley is the running backs coach — already carries himself like a senior leader with moxie, not a teenager who should be playing on Friday nights. (In full fairness, fellow freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain is actually six months younger than Bentley).
Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, the usual brake-pumpers apply: This was one game, at home, against an overmatched opponent that allows more than 450 yards per game. We’re not comparing him to Brett Favre, as the SEC Network broadcast enjoyed doing on Saturday afternoon.
Will Muschamp asked if Bentley has Connor Shaw-type potential: “Let’s just take one day at a time. We beat UMass. It gets tougher next week”
— Mike Wilson (@MikeWilsonAJC) October 22, 2016
But if Muschamp finally has what eluded him for four seasons at Florida — a weapon at quarterback — South Carolina is set up to be a dangerous force in the ultra-weak SEC East next season. The offense has young studs to build around in Samuel, Bryan Edwards, Hayden Hurst and Rico Dowdle (16 carries, 87 yards against UMass), and the defense is already above-average.
Improvement on the offensive line and continued recruiting momentum could have the Gamecocks in a much better place sooner than later, and Bentley solidifying himself as Muschamp’s quarterback would be a giant step toward that end.
It’s hard not to like Bentley’s on-field enthusiasm from afar. His teammates have to feel the same way.
READ MORE: Will Muschamp discusses win over UMass
The Bentley clan pic.twitter.com/RxQzgzj11x
— Hale McGranahan (@Hale_AJC) October 22, 2016