COLUMBIA — It was all set up so perfectly his own mother couldn’t have written it better.
With one magnificent comeback, Jake Bentley could have silenced his critics and proved why he’s South Carolina’s quarterback.
And yet there he sat, again, the losing QB in a game in which he could have played better, but also a game in which his teammates let him down.
“Things here and there that can’t happen,” Bentley said, looking down at the table during the postgame news conference, his battered left knee held in place by the clunky brace that kept him out of last week’s win over Missouri. “Obviously, can’t throw an interception in the red zone.”
That’s what had the large and vocal section of the fan base, which was moaning Thursday when Bentley was announced as the starter, getting louder on Saturday.
Bentley was shaky early, overthrowing several receivers, and when he tossed a soft fade to the corner of the end zone looking for Josh Vann, Charles Oliver intercepted. It was Bentley’s seventh interception in four games and 15th in the last 10.
Backup QB Michael Scarnecchia beat Missouri with three touchdown throws. More importantly, he did it with no turnovers.
Will Muschamp has said that no one can turn the ball over and expect to keep playing. He also said that when it came to his quarterbacks, he would do whatever it took to beat Texas A&M.
That interception helped the Aggies run off 16 unanswered points. But Bentley led the Gamecocks all the way back, throwing two incredible touchdowns with two just as incredible two-point conversions. It was all there.
He could have gotten his first real win over a Top 25 team and made it clear he is the best choice to lead this team. His chance, after weeks of playing the loyal soldier and never responding to the bait, to pose in front of every section of Williams-Brice Stadium as the PA thumped The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now?”
And then his teammates blew it for him. Again.
A dropped interception led to an A&M field goal. A busted blocking assignment had him sacked nearly before he got the snap. The Gamecocks’ inability to stop Texas A&M tight end Jace Sternberger or execute an onside kick.
Add that to Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel dropping on-the-money throws where both looked like touchdowns, and Shi Smith dropping two passes right to him, and there sat Bentley again, hard-luck loser, booed by his own fans.
“That’s life. Obviously it’s disappointing to hear that from the fans but they just want to win, too,” Bentley said. “And so do I.”
No question he could have played better, just like most every game this year. He absolutely cannot throw that interception.
Yet all of that goes away if his receivers don’t drop passes, or defenders make tackles, or the “discipline” in Muschamp’s “Effort. Toughness. Discipline” mantra is followed to the letter.
“That position’s going to get criticized, just like my position,” Muschamp said. “He battled his (butt) off and put us in a situation to win the football game.”
And then Bentley only blamed himself, never mind his receivers have hands with more holes than an Ed Wood movie plot lately, showing admirable leadership but frustrating conviction.
Did Tommy Suggs or Steve Taneyhill or Connor Shaw ever rip their receivers when they dropped perfect passes? Bentley won’t, ever.
For all the talk of a quarterback change, maybe that’s where it needs to be. Bentley has enough to worry about with his own game without taking the fall for others.