Why South Carolina fans should be excited about QB Jake Bentley
The SEC is well-regarded as arguably the best conference in college football, but that has more to do with the calibre of defense and running games as opposed to quarterback play — which is one area where they are behind all the other major conferences. Still, there has been an influx of talent at the position this year, and several true freshman have made a name for themselves as starters.
While Jalen Hurts gets the credit he deserves for being a big part of Alabama’s success, and Georgia’s Jacob Eason gets a lot of hype for the future, it has actually been South Carolina’s young signal caller who is grabbing our attention recently. So what makes Jake Bentley the key reason why South Carolina fans should be excited for the future? Let’s take a look.
Great deep ball
Something everyone who watched South Carolina’s win over Missouri on Saturday will be aware of is that Bentley had a great game throwing the ball downfield, going six-for-seven for 130 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions on throws 20 yards downfield or further. It’s an area he has impressed in since seeing his first start against Massachusetts three weeks ago, when both of his touchdown passes came on deep passes. When you compare his efficiency on those deep passes to other quarterbacks in the SEC, no quarterback has played as well as he has in the past three weeks over the course of the season so far.
Bentley admittedly has a smaller sample size than the rest of the top five, but the fact that 23 percent of his passing attempts have been 20 yards or further downfield limits the sample size being too small. Most importantly, his 64.7 adjusted completion percentage on deep throws is the best in the SEC, and his 4:0 touchdown to interception ratio is matched only by Auburn Sean White. That’s pretty impressive for a true freshman.
Impressive under pressure
Pressure impacts all quarterbacks differently, but generally speaking it has a negative effect on quarterback play. However, through three games, Bentley has actually performed really well when pressure has got there. On 38 drop-backs under pressure, Bentley has been sacked 11 times, but when he has got the ball off he has completed 60.9 percent of his passes and thrown two touchdowns to no interceptions — good for an NFL passer rating of 122.6, just a 2.6 drop from his passer rating without pressure. Against Missouri on Saturday we saw him step up in the pocket to avoid pressure on 3rd-and-six with 3:56 left in the third quarter, dropping a perfectly placed pass to wide receiver Deebo Samuel on a corner route, with the ball meeting the receiver nicely between the sideline and the defensive back.
A big part of that is about how quickly he is getting rid of the ball, with an average time to throw of 2.55 seconds — the fifth-fastest mark in the conference — but it’s also about him putting the ball where it needs to be. Bentley has been able to find his receivers quickly when pressure gets there, keeping the chains moving for the Gamecocks. His quick reactions have helped against the blitz too, with an impressive 149.6 passer rating on throws where the opposing defense has brought the blitz.
High PFF grade
Through three games, Bentley has produced a PFF grade of 77.9 — the 24th-best mark in the nation among quarterbacks this year. It’s also the second-best mark in the SEC, trailing only Ole Miss signal caller Chad Kelly, and ahead of fellow true freshmen Jalen Hurts and Jacob Eason. Obviously Bentley has a much smaller sample size than other quarterbacks with just three starts under his belt, but what we’re seeing so far should give South Carolina fans faith that they are headed in the right direction, and perhaps also question why he didn’t see the field sooner.
There are tough challenges ahead for him, and he’ll face much better defenses than Missouri when he goes up against Florida on the road this weekend, along with currently-undefeated Clemson on the road to end the season on November 26th. His play has helped the Gamecocks on their way to a three-game winning streak, giving them a 5-4 record through three games and just one win from bowl eligibility. What should give South Carolina fans even more hope for the future is that they play in an SEC East division which has been poor this year. Given Bentley’s play through three games, and the potential that he will significantly improve in his second season, there is every chance that they can be in the hunt to go to the SEC Championship Game a season from now.