GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The two players wearing No. 4 for South Carolina came together for a moment late in Saturday’s loss to Florida.
Bryson Allen-Williams, the defense’s No. 4, stopped Jake Bentley before the freshman quarterback could reach the sideline after his final pass slipped off Hayden Hurst’s fingertips, ending any chance of a wild South Carolina comeback.
“I just told him we got his back,” Allen-Williams said. “It’s a long road. I’m definitely going to be back with him next year and I told him we just have to keep working. We all have to keep working.
“At the end of the day, he played a hell of a game. He’s just got to continue to keep his head up and remain confident. Jake is a great football player. He is a quarterback of the future. We are proud to go to war with him on defense.”
Bentley was on the losing side for the first time in his playing career at South Carolina. He started 3-0 after taking over the starting job after USC’s bye week on Oct. 15.
But those games were all at Williams-Brice Stadium, the familiar locker room, home fans and all that goes with it. Bentley and running back Rico Dowdle were playing in their first road game Saturday. Bryan Edwards, another true freshman on offense, was among other young South Carolina players experiencing a major road test in facing the Gators in The Swamp.
“You saw some wide eyes,” Allen-Williams said. “But as a freshman or as a sophomore, being in this environment for the first time, it’s kind of intimidating. We tried to do a better job when we came in at halftime of talking to some of the young guys and letting them know it’s just another game.”
Bentley finished with 213 yards on 18 of 33 passing in the 20-7 loss. He went without a touchdown for the first time and threw his first career interception. Coach Will Muschamp noted a handful of drops hurt Bentley and the USC offense, as wide receiver Hayden Hurst and tight end Bryan Edwards each accounted for a key third-down drop. Bentley also was constantly under fire from the UF defense, which sacked him five times and recorded seven hurries.
“I thought he responded extremely well,” Muschamp said. “Fought his butt off. We will continue to get better. The future is extremely bright.”
Dowdle was bottled up, as was the entire South Carolina rushing attack. Dowdle had nine carries for 18 yards and suffered an injury late in the game. Muschamp said the freshman running back will be fine. Edwards had two catches for 37 yards, including a terrific grab over Florida All-American cornerback Jalen Tabor.
The whole game was another one of the growing pains and learning experiences the young Gamecocks, led by Bentley, are experiencing.
“The speed of the game continues to slow down for him,” Muschamp said, “as well as Bryan Edwards, Rico Dowdle, Chavis Dawkins and all of the young guys playing for us, especially against an elite group on defense.”
The Gamecocks were shut out in the first half, but got in the end zone in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard David Williams touchdown run. And they were close to making it a one-score game with less than a minute to play, when Bentley’s fourth-down pass was slightly beyond Hurst’s reach in the end zone.
It was that fight in the young Gamecocks that stuck with senior offensive tackle Mason Zandi at the end of the afternoon.
“I want to commend all of our guys for not giving up and fighting,” Zandi said. “It’s really easy to get down 20-0 and get frustrated and hang your head. None of our guys did that. They fought their (butts) off the entire time. I definitely appreciate that.
“Coming from a fifth-year senior and seeing freshmen, sophomores, true freshmen out there fighting as hard as they could and I really appreciate that. We are going to regroup, reload and get ready for Western Carolina.”