To preface this statement, I want to make one thing clear. I have been a supporter of Jake Bentley since day one and what I’m going to say isn’t an attack on his character whatsoever. Bentley is one of most respectable people who have ever donned Garnet and Black. He has a great mentality and has had a lot of success at the University of South Carolina. He will most likely finish his career somewhere between the top ten and top five in almost all statistics and top three for wins by a USC quarterback. Jake Bentley isn’t the sole reason South Carolina lost to Texas A&M, and he hasn’t been the sole reason USC has lost to anyone, but his play deserves to be criticized.
Now with all of this considered, read what I’m going to write out objectively. Jake Bentley is not having a very good year playing quarterback. Statistically, the eye test, whatever metric you want to use, he hasn’t played that well. He leads the SEC in interceptions with seven and this is with only playing 5 games. I don’t care about what he did as a freshman or as a sophomore, I’m worried about what he’s doing for me this season. I would like to remind you he’s not a world beater by any means and he isn’t the sole reason South Carolina loses games, but he is a part of the problem.
I understand the sample size for Michael Scarnecchia is extremely small. But, in the one game he played, he completed 57% of his passes for 249 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jake Bentley has thrown for 240 yards or more with three touchdowns or more to zero interceptions once; it was against Coastal Carolina this year. Mind you that Scarnecchia did this in an absolute monsoon in Columbia. Sure, he had a few bad passes, but he threw an extremely catchable ball the entire game.
Scarnecchia did everything the coaching staff had asked out of him against Missouri. He kept them close the entire game, hit the open guy, made the right choices, and took his team down the field with one minute left to set up a game winning field goal. Scar is a fifth year senior who did everything asked of him and more, and you can’t reward the guy with a start or even playing time the next week? I always thought that if you put in the work, practice well, and have a great game, then you’ve earned the right to start or at least see the field.
Yes, Michael Scarnecchia received some help from his defense as they bowed up in the red zone multiple times and forced field goals. But, had it not been for Scarnecchia’s play, the field goals wouldn’t have mattered. We probably would’ve lost by 20 points. I get that Missouri’s secondary is not the best, but it’s still an SEC secondary. I’m also not saying that Jake Bentley couldn’t have put up similar stats or even better stats against Missouri or won the game. But he didn’t do those things, and Michael Scarnecchia did.
Jalen Hurts took Alabama to two national championships, got pulled at the half in the second one, and hasn’t seen a meaningful snap since. Obviously, comparing the quarterback situation at USC to the one at Alabama is a stretch, but there are similarities. Scarnecchia isn’t as obvious the superior to Bentley as Tua Tagovialoa is to Jalen Hurts, but Tua earned his chance to continue to be the starter for Alabama, as Michael Scarnecchia did, and is now the leading candidate for the Heisman trophy. I’m definitely not saying that Scarnecchia would be a Heisman candidate if he was the starter because he wouldn’t be. But, Scar earned the chance to at least play, if not start, against Texas A&M.
Let’s get back to Bentley. He’s played well in the games South Carolina was favored to win (Vanderbilt and Coastal Carolina) and played poor in games South Carolina was favored to lose (Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas A&M). He played better against A&M than UGA or Kentucky. All of the blame for these losses aren’t on him, but your quarterback makes or breaks you a lot of the time.
I think we would all be willing to say that UGA, Kentucky, and A&M are all teams that have around the same talent or more talent than South Carolina. So when you have a talent differential, quarterback is the one equalizer. Jake Bentley hasn’t equalized South Carolina to anyone so far. Bentley has one career win against a top 25 football team (Tennessee his freshman year) in his two-and-a-half-year career at USC.
Without Jake Bentley’s slow starts, South Carolina would’ve been at least tied or leading the games at halftime against Texas A&M and Kentucky. His first half stats against those two opponents go like this: 9-28, 55 yards, and two interceptions. If I give you around 5 drops combined for those two games, he’s sitting at 50%, probably 140 yards and somewhere close to two touchdowns to two interceptions. These stats alone are worth pulling a quarterback. His second half play against both of those teams was better, but when you’re up by two or more scores at the end of the first half, you usually load the box and play with cushion in the second half. This definitely adds to why Bentley has much better second halves.
For the Texas A&M game specifically, I do not blame the loss entirely or even for the most part on Bentley. There were multiple mistakes by multiple players which led to this loss. His play against UGA and Kentucky was much worse. However, if Bentley had managed to get his team just one score in the first half, South Carolina would’ve either won that game or took it to overtime. I want to add to this that in the first half against Texas A&M, USC had the ball six times. Five out of the six drives yielded in punts, 3 out of the six drives were 3 and outs, and Bentley had one miserable interception in the end zone intended to Josh Vann who was being covered by a 6’2” Charles Oliver. There were a couple of big time drops, but you can’t muster a field goal in an entire half of football?
Barring a miracle, South Carolina wasn’t in contention for the SEC East regardless of the result of the A&M game. What’s the worst thing that could happen by starting a fifth year senior who played his tail off and won you a game the week before? If he would’ve played poorly against A&M, insert Bentley and ride out with him. I promise that if Scarnechhia would’ve started against A&M, and had that same interception in the end zone, he would’ve been pulled immediately.
This same logic was inserted when Jake Bentley took over for Brandon McIlwain and Perry Orth in 2016. If he would’ve performed subpar against UMass, Orth or McIlwain would’ve gotten another chance. However, Bentley earned the right, like Scarnecchia did against Missouri, with his performance against UMass to start against Tennessee the next week.
Let’s also not pretend that the quarterback position did not need evaluation after the Kentucky game. At that point in the season, Bentley had thrown for 64% on the year, with seven touchdowns to six interceptions. He played absolutely atrocious against Kentucky. Muschamp preaches about protecting the ball, and Bentley hasn’t done that.
This tells every player on the team that if you come in for another player, play your tail off and make game winning plays, that you may not even get the chance to see the field the next week.
Hell, call me crazy, but if Tom Brady hadn’t been given the chance to keep his job when he earned it after Drew Bledsoe was injured, the Patriots wouldn’t have 5 Super Bowl rings. I’m not saying Michael Scarnechhia is the next coming of Tom Brady because he isn’t, but the situation is weirdly similar. Scarnechhia came in for an injured Bentley, made plays to beat Missouri and didn’t really ever hurt Carolina, and then was told he wouldn’t be playing the next week. Brady did something similar for the Patriots in 2001. I would even say that the investment USC has in Bentley is similar to the one that the Patriots had in Bledsoe. Bentley is considered the face of the program, and Bledsoe had recently been given a 10-year, 103-million-dollar contract. Will Muschamp’s defense has played well enough for South Carolina to be 5-1 right now, and his offense has held him to 3-3.
Another big point in all of this is that Jake’s receivers failed him against Texas A&M. Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel both dropped two throws that could’ve resulted in some form of points. Those plays are on the wide receivers. However, two of his three second half touchdowns were 50-50 balls that his WR’s made plays on. The other touchdown was pretty much a garbage time score, as they scored down 10 with 48 seconds left. I don’t think there has been a successful onside kick in Will Muschamp’s time at USC. The wide receivers cost him a lot this game, but they also made plays for him as well.
There were drop problems against A&M and Kentucky. These problems seem to have come around since Rico Dowdle’s dropped pass against UGA which hit him in in the chest and resulted in a pick-six for the Bulldogs. I don’t know if these drops are a result of coaching, confidence, a mix of both or neither.
Confidence plays an extremely important key in football, especially with wide receivers. Once you see yourself make a catch or a big play, then you have the confidence that you can do it again. The opposite is true as well. When you drop a ball or miss an opportunity for a big play, it lingers with you. I know the coaching staff and players have come out multiple times and stated their unwavering confidence in Bentley. But you really didn’t see the drops be a big issue against Missouri even though it was raining like it did when Forest Gump was stationed in Vietnam. Maybe I’m reading in to it too much, but maybe the WR group has more confidence when Michael Scarnecchia is throwing them the football.
I also want to add to this that there aren’t many quarterbacks in the world that can win football games without a solid running game. Bentley hasn’t had that many times throughout his career and for him to have played as well as he has at times is impressive.
At the end of the day, I’m not calling for Jake Bentley’s job. I’m asking for consistency from the quarterback position, specifically from a veteran quarterback named Jake Bentley through four quarters against good teams who has a really good offensive line and a good group of receivers.
Obviously, quarterback is a unique position and you only get to put on the field. But put the one on the field who’s going to give you the best shot to win. We’ve seen this year that #19 doesn’t play well at all in the first half against teams of equal or better level of South Carolina. Putting yourself in a hole going into the second half makes it pretty difficult to win football games. If Scar is going to put South Carolina in a successful position throughout all four quarters, then play the man.
I don’t care what players play, I want the University of South Carolina to win football games. You play the players that put you in the best position to win. Almost everyone can agree about that.
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