By Josh Hyber/Photos by Jenny Dilworth and Artie Walker
Jake Bentley learned at the Manning Passing Academy this summer how everyone on a team should have a role, and the South Carolina quarterback plans on implementing that this year with his teammates in the Gamecocks’ quarterback room.
Bentley will continue to study game film with primary backup Michael Scarnecchia, but will now ask each of his backups to focus on specific aspects of upcoming Gamecocks’ opponents so he can peel back the layers of opposing defenses.
But that’s far from the only change around Bentley this season.
The junior will have a new play caller and position coach: offensive coordinator/receivers coach Bryan McClendon and first-year quarterbacks coach Dan Werner. And, as has been heavily documented this offseason, a new up-tempo attack.
“I think [Jake is] an elite player in our league,” SC head coach Will Muschamp said. “I think that he’s played extremely well. He’s matured beyond his years. He’s got a great, competitive edge."
Muschamp and his coaching staff believe the junior OB will excel with the faster pace and up-tempo offense.
"I expect Jake to have a great year," he said. "I think playing fast helps him. I think he processes extremely well and extremely fast.”
The man who will be under center — or in the shotgun, at times — is not in question. South Carolina’s QB1 position belongs to Bentley and Bentley alone. If it’s not garbage time or a blowout game, expect No. 19 to be leading the Gamecock offense.
The signal-caller has started each of the past 20 games for the Garnet & Black and owns a 13-7 record as a starter. He completed 245 of 394 passes (62.2 percent) for 2,794 yards with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. Among SEC quarterbacks, he ranked second in completions, sixth in passing yards per game (214.9) and tied for fourth in touchdown passes. He enters the season considered one of the best in a league loaded with elite quarterbacks.
Expect those numbers to improve in McClendon’s new up-tempo, run-pass option system.
Where improvement needs to come is against the Gamecocks’ toughest opponents. Bentley threw two touchdowns and seven interceptions against Georgia, Clemson and Florida last season.
“I think Jake is catching a lot of heat for the way last year finished,” ESPN analyst Paul Finebaum told Spurs & Feathers. “[But] I think he could be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, easily.”
Bentley is working hard to correct those mistakes and raise his game to a new level.
"He's been working on his technique and the things he has to get better at. I feel like he's getting better at his craft every day," star receiver Deebo Samuel said.
"We have cleaned some things up," Muschamp said. "Jake feels much more comfortable with that and he's got to take care of the football better, especially in some big games as far as turning the football over. But I'm glad Jake Bently is the quarterback at South Carolina."
It’s not often a primary backup is a redshirt-senior with only three appearances and one completion for nine yards, but that’s what the Gamecocks have in Michael Scarnecchia.
Expect the Florida native to play only spot minutes if Bentley is healthy.
“Scar pushes me every single day,” Bentley said. “Scar, sometimes, he makes some throws and you’re just like, ‘Wow. That’s a big-time throw.’
“All the guys in the room do. We’re competitive guys and we want to push each other every single day. It’s a great group to be around. Everyone loves being around each other.”
True freshman Dakereon Joyner, Jay Ulrich (redshirt freshman), Danny Gordon (redshirt senior), Bailey Hart (redshirt sophomore), Darius Douglas (redshirt freshman) and Corbett Glick (freshman) fill out the quarterback room.
While Scarnecchia will be the first off the bench in garbage time, Joyner could also see the field, especially with the NCAA’s new redshirt rule. If Bentley has to miss extended time, expect Joyner — at 6-foot-1, 208 pounds — to get a look after a spectacular high school career.
Joyner could have a package designed specifically for him to get the young playmaker on the field and showcase his athleticism and explosive running ability.
“Anybody that can help us win football games, we’re going to try to get them on the field,” Muschamp said. “Certainly, Dakereon made a lot of progress during spring and we’ll see how he does in training camp.”