South Carolina

Jake Bentley has final opportunity to leave lasting mark at South Carolina

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley arrived in Columbia as a 6-foot-4, 225-pound 4-star prospect. After he earned the starting job halfway through his freshman season, the expectation was Bentley would become one of the best quarterbacks in college football.

With his decision to return for his senior year, Bentley is poised to break several school records this fall, and yet, he’s still left something to be desired. Especially after going 9-4 in 2017, posting a 7-6 mark with a Belk Bowl shutout loss to Virginia last season was particularly disappointing.

Fair or not, anything short of a nine or 10-win season could leave Bentley with an unsatisfying legacy at South Carolina. But that won’t be possible unless he finds more consistency, and even then, anything more than eight wins for South Carolina will be very difficult because of a hard schedule.

While many Gamecocks fans would argue to the contrary, Bentley actually has progressed nicely in several areas. In his first two seasons, he averaged 7.2 yards per attempt with a 63.4 completion percentage.

During 2018, Bentley saw his yards per pass average jump a full yard (8.2) while his completion dropped just slightly (61.9). He also threw nine more touchdowns last year.

The South Carolina quarterback probably shouldn’t receive all the credit. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who became a second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, returned last fall and really blossomed, leading the team in receiving. Most of Bentley’s favorite targets from 2017 returned last fall, which helped the passing game, particularly down the field.

However, what is still frustrating with Bentley is his inconsistency — both from throw to throw and week to week.

For instance, take a look at just his first four SEC games from 2018:

Completion % Yards Per Attempt Touchdowns Interceptions
GEORGIA 63.8 5.7 1 2
@Vanderbilt 67.9 9.3 1 1
@Kentucky 46.4 5.3 1 3
TEXAS A&M 48.6 6.4 3 1

Clearly, the rising senior posted his best statistical game of this bunch against Vanderbilt, but even against the Commodores, Bentley threw an interception.

Last season, Bentley tossed 14 picks, which is too many for a quarterback expected to be elite. With 27 touchdowns, he posted his best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career, but a near 2-to-1 ratio isn’t going to cut it in today’s football. It’s not 1999. (Or 1989? 1979?).

As a sophomore, he threw 18 touchdowns versus 12 interceptions. So while it’s great Bentley is throwing more touchdowns, the giveaways are still concerning. There was only one SEC team the South Carolina quarterback didn’t throw an interception against last year. He threw at least one interception against Clemson and Virginia as well.

By the end of the season, South Carolina seemed to accept that its signal caller was likely going to throw multiple touchdowns but also at least one interception. If Bentley is going to take his game to the next level, that has to change in 2019.

The same can largely be said for his accuracy. Bentley posted a completion percentage below 50 in three different games, including the Belk Bowl against Virginia (the other two are in the chart above).

Maybe even worse, Bentley posted a 51.9 completion percentage — along with two interceptions — against Akron. That came a week after throwing for 510 yards and five touchdowns with a 64.0 completion percentage against the eventual champion Clemson Tigers.

It’s hard to explain the peaks and valleys in Bentley’s play. But in order for him to shed the disappointment label and go from good to great, he must be more consistent.

Of course, Bentley will have to fix his inconsistency issues against what 247Sports ranked as the toughest schedule in the nation. South Carolina could potentially face four preseason Top 10 teams and Texas A&M.

Furthermore, South Carolina will also square off against Appalachian State and North Carolina. The Tar Heels haven’t been a competitive program the last couple seasons, but this matchup will take place in Charlotte and will be Mack Brown’s first game back at the helm. That makes it a more difficult game than it appears on paper.

Unfortunately for Bentley, his legacy is as directly tied to his team’s record as it is his stats. With this schedule, many national experts don’t expect South Carolina to win more than eight games, and because of the tough slate, even that total could be a stretch.

Another seven-win season probably won’t be enough to silent Bentley critics, especially since coach Will Muschamp has hyped this team as his best since he took over at South Carolina in 2015.

Not that that’s the way it should be. There’s plenty of reasons the Gamecock fan base should be thankful for Bentley. South Carolina won three games the year before Bentley arrived, and during his freshman season, he helped the Gamecocks earn a bowl bid.

But that’s just the way it is. If he can cut down on his interceptions and improve his accuracy, though, maybe Bentley can lead South Carolina to a couple upsets and change the narrative around his legacy. The 2019 season is his final chance.

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