COLUMBIA, S.C. – The last time Jake Bentley was seen in a South Carolina uniform, he was standing on the sideline at Clemson, watching the second half with his hands in a hand warmer.
The South Carolina freshman quarterback, who largely dazzled in his first four starts, was shut down by the Tigers and a bruised left knee had coach Will Muschamp taking no chances in a game that already was out of hand.
Thankfully for Bentley and the Gamecocks, a chance remains to change the final image of this season, which Bentley helped turn around.
“You talk to him a little bit,” senior offensive tackle Mason Zandi said. “That’s your quarterback. You don’t want to sound like Terrell Owens, but that’s my quarterback. You put an arm around him and tell him, ‘Hey, we’ve got another opportunity.’ Some people mocked me for that after the Clemson game telling him we had another opportunity to play ball, but fact of the matter is, we do. We have a chance to show we are better than what we put on film against Clemson.
“Jake is going to be fine and we are going to be fine from there.”
South Carolina and Bentley have one more game to play in Thursday’s Birmingham Bowl against South Florida (10-2). The knee isn’t bothering Bentley anymore and his teammates said he is moving around fine, while wearing a knee brace.
They also said he is bouncing back just fine from an outing at Clemson that was far different from his previous starts. The freshman threw for just 41 yards on 7 of 17 passing with an interception.
“I remember after the game, he was just frustrated that he got hurt and couldn’t continue the game to help his team,” running back David Williams said. “He tried to come back, but that’s about it. He hasn’t been moping around at all.”
Bentley led the Gamecocks to a 4-2 record in the second half of the season. In his first five starts, he completed 66 percent of his passes for just shy of 1,000 yards with 6 touchdowns. Bentley struggled in the fourth of those five starts, a loss at Florida in which he threw his first career interception. But he rebounded against Western Carolina a week prior to going to Clemson, where South Carolina took a 56-7 loss – the second-largest in the rivalry’s history.
Senior quarterback Perry Orth said Bentley has responded since that game “just like he’s always done.” He praised the way Bentley buckled down on getting ready for USF once the bowl pairing was announced in early December.
“Just get in the film room, working hard, just doing what coach (Kurt) Roper asked him to do,” Orth said. “Understanding that you’re going to have some tough games, especially playing at this level. It comes with it. He’s kept a good attitude. He’s got some good people around him. And coach Roper has done a good job with him. I’m excited for him.”
Said offensive lineman Zack Bailey: “He’s just being Jake.”
South Carolina arrived in Birmingham early Monday morning, holding its first practice later in the day.
But Thursday is the day on the Gamecocks minds, as they have a chance to leave Muschamp’s first season with a winning record and strong momentum heading into 2017. For Bentley, he’s got the opportunity to put Clemson in the past and put a good end on his freshman campaign, which started off as a redshirt season.
“I think Jake has really bounced back,” Zandi said. “He’s not down. He’s not sad. He’s not sluggish. He’s just excited about the next game, the next opportunity and excited about the process of playing and learning the game.”