COLUMBIA — He took the blame like he always does. Quarterbacks don’t get anywhere blaming their teammates, even if it’s deserved.
So Jake Bentley shouldered it. “I got to put the ball in a better spot,” South Carolina’s junior QB said after a crushing loss to Georgia a week ago. “Other things were maybe a little too tight.”
Nobody’s excusing him from the game — he could have played much better, something all Gamecocks could have done against the Bulldogs — but against Georgia, he didn’t get a lot of help. In the first half, the Gamecocks’ pass-catchers dropped six balls.
“Again, that's something we always talk in terms of we drill every day, going through traffic and catching balls and catches under duress and dragging a guy on top, so that's something that's constantly worked on,” said coach Will Muschamp, whose team had extra time to dwell on its 41-17 loss to Georgia after USC's game against Marshall scheduled for Saturday was canceled because of Hurricane Florence.
“We obviously need to do a lot more work on it.”
Responsibility was split between running back Rico Dowdle and the receivers. Dowdle had three clang off his hands, the most costly a ball that went the worst place it could go — in the air and inbounds, where Deaundre Baker could catch it on a dead run and have nothing but clear field in front of him.
Yet Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, two of the most dynamic receivers in the league, also couldn’t pull in passes that hit their hands. Samuel dropped two, Edwards one.
Muschamp said that Edwards’ drop was the only one that should be half-and-half on Bentley and the receiver. The crossing pattern was delivered a little hot, but it did hit Edwards in the hands.
But that and the other five? “The ball was delivered where it was supposed to be,” Muschamp said.
A 24-point loss can’t be pinned on those six first-half drops. The defense still had to stop Georgia and did not, particularly in the second half when the Gamecocks fought back from a 14-0 hole to make it competitive.
Yet if those passes are pulled in, especially Dowdle’s contributed pick-six …
That’s seven points off the board. That perhaps settles Bentley down from some of the other throws that were sailed later on. That perhaps gets more than 10 first-half points.
That perhaps removes some of the concern. The program has definitely rebounded from where it was in 2015, but still doesn’t appear ready to really arrive against the best teams in the country.
And perhaps it was just one bad day.
“I got all the faith in them. They know that I’m not going to lose faith in them,” Bentley said. “I’m going to keep throwing to them. They got to play better, I got to play better, we all got to play better.”
Edwards said the focus in practice this week was nothing more than usual. Drops were not an issue in preseason camp.
“Nothing we can do about the past,” he said. “Just have to move on and continue to give our best every day.”
An apology to Bentley wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.