Man, what could’ve been.

That’s what I think about whenever I watch Jake Bentley operate without Deebo Samuel. Even in a loss to Texas A&M and a close call against Louisiana Tech two weeks ago, Bentley showed many signs of taking that next step as a quarterback.

All of the physical tools are there. The understanding of the position is there. The gunslinging, never-say-die attitude is there.

I mean, just look at this throw he made last week against Texas A&M:

You can’t teach that.

You also can’t teach Samuel’s speed, which was on full display during the first three games. Before he broke his leg against Kentucky, Samuel looked every bit like the dynamic weapon South Carolina needed to stretch better SEC defenses.

Deebo Samuel scored six touchdowns in two-plus games. The Gamecocks have scored five touchdowns since his injury.

The Gamecocks could’ve used him Saturday night against the Aggies. They could’ve used him in that comeback attempt against Kentucky, too.

Bentley will spend the rest of the season trying to find someone who can make the kind of impact that Samuel did. Lord knows the Gamecocks’ ground game isn’t going to do the heavy lifting. Gaining 3 yards per carry won’t exactly take pressure off Bentley.

Samuel could’ve had an impact in the ground game, but it’s the passing game where his absence has been felt the most. Bentley is improving, and he doesn’t have the wins to show for it. That could’ve been a different story with his go-to guy on the field.

When Samuel was on the field 2017, South Carolina averaged 7.2 points per quarter (not including the third quarter vs. Kentucky). In the nine quarters since Samuel broke his leg, that number is down to 5.2. Keep in mind that one of those games without Samuel was at home against Louisiana Tech.

Watching the Gamecocks struggle offensively against Texas A&M, it was clear that Bentley missed Samuel more than ever. He needed a guy to dump the ball off to that the defense had to account for. Whether it was a screen, a quick slant or a drag route, just having Samuel out there would’ve prevented the Aggies from racking up seven sacks against a rather mobile guy in Bentley.

That first touchdown against Kentucky was the perfect example of why Samuel was so important. This is a simple pitch and catch against single coverage on the outside:

That’s an easy, high-percentage throw that Bentley can make 10 times out of 10. He’s smart enough to see that Samuel can potentially have some daylight if he gets the Kentucky safety to bite on the fake (which he does). That play doesn’t involve Bentley making a spectacular throw like he did on that aforementioned scramble and bomb against Texas A&M.

That’s South Carolina’s problem right now. Without the ability to run the ball and really sustain drives, it puts so much pressure on Bentley to make home run plays. Samuel just made things easier. His skill set was so perfect for what the Gamecocks wanted to establish with Bentley.

And perhaps I shouldn’t say “was,” because we don’t know Samuel’s NFL plans just yet. He could decide to come back for another year with Bentley in hopes of legitimizing that early-season Heisman Trophy talk and showing everyone that he’s one of the country’s most versatile weapons.

South Carolina fans obviously hope that they haven’t seen the last of Samuel in Columbia. If they have, they’ll be left wondering.

Man, what could’ve been.