COLUMBIA, S.C. — A week after Jake Bentley got his introduction to college football, the South Carolina freshman quarterback received his introduction to SEC football.
He probably was well aware of that reality when he woke up Sunday morning. Bentley was hammered by the Tennessee defensive line, led by Derek Barnett. He was sacked 6 times and hit many more.
But the should-be high school senior hung tough in the pocket, standing tall and delivering passes downfield and escaping to make plays with his feet, at times.
“Jake is a real tough guy,” wide receiver Deebo Samuel said. “He played his heart out. He gave it his all out there.”
Bentley’s all was enough to lead the South Carolina offense to its second-straight game with more than 20 points, which it did not do through the first six games. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 167 yards with a pair of touchdowns, bringing his season total to 4 compared to no interceptions.
“I thought he did a nice job,” coach Will Muschamp said. “He was accurate with the ball. I thought he threw the ball well into tight coverage. Our guys made some plays, so you have to give those guys some credit. There’s no question, in that environment, it says a lot about him as a young man and his preparation and what he puts into it.”
Bentley connected with wide receiver Bryan Edwards, another freshman, for a 17-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He threw his second touchdown pass to tight end K.C. Crosby, as Bentley stood in the pocket to give Crosby time to get open, then dropped a perfect pass for a 35-yard touchdown.
On South Carolina’s first drive of the game, Bentley made a key 16-yard run as he got out of the pocket and escaped for a first down. Rico Dowdle capped the drive with a touchdown. But Bentley’s biggest throws of the evening came on non-scoring plays.
Late in the fourth quarter, he found Edwards for a big third-down conversion to take more time off the clock. He did the same in finding Hayden Hurst on third down to sap more time late.
“That’s just him,” Crosby said. “That’s him in practice. Even when the game got close, he still kept his composure. He kept telling us that we were still in the game, we needed to finish strong and do what we had to do to get the win.”