COLUMBIA — There’s always a "but."
Jake Bentley could set every notable South Carolina passing record!
(But who has he beat?)
Jake Bentley won the Air It Out Challenge at the Manning Passing Academy!
(But he was throwing at golf carts, not wide receivers)
Jake Bentley has the talent, smarts and vision to play in the NFL!
(But will he consistently show it?)
The Gamecocks’ senior quarterback has had “yeah, but … ” attached to him so many times he might as well have it stitched on his jersey. He’s about to begin his third full year as starter, and since engineering a 4-3 finish after taking over a 2-4 team in 2016, has started 32 of 33 games.
Bentley has had great moments. Bentley has been an impeccable teammate, voted a two-time captain by his peers and always taking sole responsibility for a defeat.
Yeah, but …
Bentley hasn’t beaten Clemson and is flirting with becoming the only quarterback on either side of the rivalry to go 0-4. Bentley hasn’t beaten Georgia. He hasn’t even beaten Kentucky.
Wins and losses assigned to a quarterback are misleading since there are dozens of other players who can also dictate a result. Yet the stat exists, and he’s the quarterback, so when folks discuss Bentley’s 19-13 record, it’s never the 19 wins, it’s the 1-10 record against ranked teams.
That’s the legacy, fair or unfair. Nobody remembers Erik Kimrey starting a loss to Alabama in 2000, because the week before, he tossed one of the most famous passes in school history. They don’t remember Steve Taneyhill’s quarterback record as 20-19-1 because Taneyhill was MVP of the Gamecocks’ first bowl win and twice won at Clemson.
Bentley is basically a four-year starter and if anybody deserves to have his name on a ramp at Williams-Brice Stadium as a record-holder, it’s him. He has represented USC’s program with the highest possible class, dignity and professionalism.
Yeah, but …
With only one season left to cement his USC legacy, and against the country’s toughest schedule, what will that legacy be?
“I think about it more from the fact of trying to set an example for (backups Ryan Hilinski and Dakereon Joyner), of how it’s like to practice and go about watching film of practice and just trying to get better. I think about it more that way than numbers and just what I can leave on the field, leadership-wise, for them,” Bentley said.
He did take a page from receiver Bryan Edwards, who’s also in line to set every notable USC record at his position.
“I want to win games,” Edwards said. “If you don’t have the wins, what do the records mean?"
“If we don’t win,” Bentley agreed, “None of that really means anything.”
Most stunning about last year’s college football season was Bentley owned Clemson’s defense while Alabama’s QB, Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa, couldn’t. For one night, Bentley was everything he was ever supposed to be, uncoiling that golden arm for 510 yards and five touchdowns.
But the Gamecocks lost, 56-35, and while that’s certainly not Bentley’s fault (USC was down to third-string defensive linemen because of injuries), he took the loss. Then the Tigers blew past Alabama for the national championship, Tagovailoa unable to do anything Bentley did so easily.
The talent and ability is there. That game alone would make anyone feel optimistic that this will be the year that Bentley puts it all together to set records, not records.*
(* Yeah, but … )
Two areas that can start it Saturday against North Carolina?
Beginning the game calm and collected, and limiting turnovers. USC coach Will Muschamp is correct that not all of Bentley’s 14 interceptions last year were his fault.
Thirteen were. And Bentley still took the blame for the other one.
“I know he likes them in his chest, so I got to do a better job with that,” he said after a loss to Georgia, when an interception returned for a touchdown clanged off Rico Dowdle’s hands. Admirable sentiment, but Dowdle should have caught it.
Bentley always claims responsibility. He said that's what a leader does.
“What I do, I run right up to them, ‘Hey man, I got to throw it better. Put it on me,’” he said. “Let all the negative be on me so he knows he can just go make a play next time.”
A guy like that has trained for success. A guy like that should have success.
“I think he’s very comfortable with what we’re doing offensively and I think he’s got some nice parts around him,” Muschamp said. “We’re expecting a big year out of Jake.”
The kind of success that has eluded him was right there last year. The defense couldn’t stop Clemson, nor Florida when Bentley had the Gators down 31-14 late in the third quarter. A Bentley interception that led to 16 Texas A&M points nearly vanished in the haze of two Bentley-led touchdown drives (and two-point conversions).
But the Gamecocks lost that one too, leaving Bentley to answer for the early turnover and the boos from his own fans.
“That’s life,” he said. “Obviously, it’s disappointing to hear that from the fans, but they just want to win, too. And so do I.”
He could set records that would push him past chiseled names on the Gamecocks’ Mount Rushmore of Quarterbacks — Taneyhill, Todd Ellis, Connor Shaw. He will definitely have chances to improve on his one Top 25 win (No. 18 Tennessee, 2016), with five Top 12 teams dotting the schedule, and a sixth, Missouri, hovering at unofficial No. 26.
He has one more season to never again have to add “Yeah, but … ” to the next sentence.
Jake Bentley is one of the greatest quarterbacks in South Carolina history.