This past weekend, the South Carolina Gamecocks became bowl eligible after defeating the Western Carolina Catamounts 44-31.
Through the first half of the season, no one truly expected the Gamecocks to make a bowl. Their offense couldn’t produce points. The highest point total for South Carolina through the first six weeks of the year was 20. So something had to change on offense. And something did alter on offense that has led South Carolina to bowl eligibility: A change in leadership.
Early on in the year, the Gamecocks couldn’t figure out who they wanted to lead the offense at quarterback: Senior Perry Orth or freshman Brandon McIlwain?
Neither were the answer. The correct remedy for South Carolina’s offensive woes was another freshman: Jake Bentley.
In five starts, Bentley has complied 989 yards, six touchdowns and an interception. And the young quarterback showed how impressive he is in his first collegiate start.
Bentley threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns while completing 17 of his 26 passes in the Gamecocks 34-28 win over the UMass Minutemen. That gave South Carolina its third win of the season. And since then, Bentley has continued to build upon it.
Bentley led the Gamecocks to wins over SEC foes Tennessee and Missouri. In each of those games, Bentley completed 75-plus percent of his passes.
However, after leading South Carolina to three straight wins, Bentley hit a wall against the Florida Gators.
Although the signal caller tossed for 213 yards, he had his lowest completion percentage. Bentley barely completed 50 percent of his throws (54.5) and tossed the first interception in his career. Not only did Bentley throw his first pick, but he also lost his first fumble against the Gators. However, for what its worth, that was Bentley’s first career road game.
While his outing was lackluster to say the least against Florida, he did show flashes of greatness well beyond his years. Most of his 23 passes against the Gators were drops by his wide receivers and he even completed a 40-yard pass against one of the best secondaries the country.
This season in the SEC, four teams have started true freshman at quarterback: Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, Georgia’s Jacob Eason, Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson, and Bentley. Now, out the sample sizes each of the four gunslingers have produced this year, Bentley looks like he will transform into the best quarterback.
That might sound ludicrous considering that Hurts has looked like a Heisman candidate in his first season in Tuscaloosa and Eason has played in every game this year for the Bulldogs. But if you dissect the four quarterbacks’ statistics, it shows Bentley has been the better of the quadrant.
First off, Bentley has been the most efficient of the young SEC signal callers.
Through 130 passes this season, Bentley has completed 66.2 percent of them. That beats Eason and Patterson by a comfortable margin—they have completed 55.3 percent and 53.6 percent, respectively. And edges out Hurts by only a couple of percentages—Hurts has a completion rate of 64.8 percent.
Also, Bentley has only tossed one interception. Now, some may argue that it isn’t fair to compare Bentley’s number of picks to the likes of Eason (six) and Hurts’ (seven). However, if you double his passes—which would be near the amount Hurts of thrown (281)—this year, he would still be on pace to have tossed the least interceptions because Patterson has already thrown an interception in his first 84 collegiate throws.
To go along with his efficiency, Bentley has been impressive under pressure. Through his first three games of the season, Bentley completed 60.9 percent of his passes while facing pressure while also throwing for two scores and no interceptions.
Not only is he efficient, but Bentley has excellent arm strength.
After South Carolina’s win over Missouri a few weeks ago, Pro Football Focus calculated Bentley’s adjusted completion percentage on deep throws to be at 64.6 percent. That was the best percentage in the SEC at the time. He also was rated as the second best quarterback in the conference right behind Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly at one point.
Some may ask, “If he is better than the other three SEC quarterbacks, why didn’t he start at the beginning of the season for South Carolina?” Well, he should actually be in high school, as he graduated a year early to join the Gamecocks. So this 18-year-old is already shredding SEC defenses. So considering the sample size he has shown and his youth, Bentley will blossom into the best quarterback out of the four SEC freshmen signal callers.