COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s starting quarterback decisions have hardly come as a surprise this season.
That again was the case Saturday when freshman Jake Bentley made his debut, starting for the Gamecocks against Massachusetts. The change was hinted at, alluded to and all but confirmed through the week leading up to the game as the buzz reached silly levels.
Still, coach Will Muschamp said it is hard to know what will happen come game day after a change is made. But what came had to be pleasing to the South Carolina coach.
“I felt like Jake did some nice things (Saturday) and obviously some things he can improve on and will,” Muschamp said.
The Gamecocks turned to their second true freshman quarterback this season, opting for the son of running backs coach Bobby Bentley on Saturday. He helped lead the Gamecocks to a 34-28 win against UMass, moving them to 3-4 on the season.
The decision to switch to Bentley was made during South Carolina’s bye week, as the should-be high school senior started getting more work with the first team in practice. He went from redshirt to starter in that time, with conversations between Muschamp and co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper — and conversations between Muschamp and the Bentleys — taking place along the way.
“When he found out he was third string after he had a good summer, he just kept his mind straight,” Gamecocks running back David Williams said.
Bentley started strong Saturday, leading two touchdown drives early in the first quarter before throwing two touchdown passes in the second to double USC’s season total for passing scores. He connected with K.C. Crosby on a beautiful fade throw, as the tight end dove to make the reception. Bentley came back to go over the top to Bryan Edwards for another touchdown with a nice chunk of yardage to it (24 yards), something the Gamecocks have lacked this season.
“We just really opened the playbook when Jake was back there because we know he can throw the ball really well,” wide receiver Deebo Samuel said.
Bentley’s strong arm and touch were on display throughout, as he completed 17-of-26 passes for 201 yards with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions.
Muschamp, Williams and tight end Hayden Hurst all praised Bentley’s leadership abilities as well. But Saturday was just one game for the freshman. When Muschamp was asked if he saw Connor Shaw-type potential in Bentley, he was quick to slow the roll as next week’s test against No. 18 Tennessee awaits.
“Let’s just take one day at a time,” Muschamp said. “We beat UMass. It gets tougher next week.”