The possibility of Jake Bentley playing well against Clemson grew in recent weeks as the South Carolina quarterback put together a string of solid performances.
In his third season, Bentley appeared to turn the corner following a dud of a first half against Texas A&M when boos fell from the Williams-Brice Stadium faithful. But since then, Bentley passed for 1,316 yards with 12 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Still, the critics remained, particularly about his performance in big games, and most notably against Clemson as his struggles were well documented.
Bentley silenced them with a career day, and made the college football world collectively sit up and wonder about the Clemson defense.
Bentley passed for 510 yards, including more than 300 in the first half alone, and 5 touchdowns. The yardage total was the most in school history, and it broke Steve Taneyhill’s mark of 473 yards passing against Mississippi State in 1995.
Keep in mind, this was against the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense. Clemson has since slipped to No. 4 behind Mississippi State, Fresno State and Alabama.
It also quelled earlier questions about Bentley’s performances against Florida, which was third in the SEC in pass defense at the time, Tennessee (8th), Texas A&M (12th) and Ole Miss (14th).
It revived old projections, from 2016, that had Bentley as the best in the SEC for throwing deep balls, better than the likes of Joshua Dobbs, Sean White, Austin Allen and Chad Kelly, according to Pro Football Focus.
Greg McElroy in February, 2017, even listed him as the third-best quarterback in the SEC, ahead of Georgia’s Jake Fromm, (and interestingly behind Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald and Alabama’s Jalen Hurts), as the SEC Network analyst praised his football acumen and ability to make teammates better.
“This was a guy that was thrown into an almost-impossible situation where the season was teetering on the edge of being lost, and all he did was respond with big wins,” McElroy said. “I think his ability to steady the ship and rely on what is going to be an improved supporting cast, he might be my favorite.”
— Gamecock Athletics (@GamecocksOnline) February 1, 2017
The question now is: Should the Gamecocks just go all-in on the Bentley express? He’s already second in the SEC in passing yards per game (275). With 2,754 yards and 2 games remaining, he should become the fifth SC QB to top 3,000 passing yards (Todd Ellis did it twice.) Dylan Thompson’s school record of 3,564 yards appears safe this year, but Bentley could finish this season with the second-most yards in program history. Ellis holds that distinction with 3,206.
Bentley benefitted from the quality play-calling by first-year coordinator Bryan McClendon as 4 of his 32 completions went for touchdown passes of at least 20 yards.
Jake Bentley threw for a combined 24 first downs and touchdowns against Clemson – leading the Power-5 QBs (and the nation) in the process pic.twitter.com/c2vuwD285y
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 25, 2018
Perhaps it’s taken to this point in the season for Bentley, McClendon and new QB coach Dan Werner to adjust to being around each other. Bentley’s the most experienced of that group in their current positions.
The historically turnover-prone Bentley, who is still tied for the SEC lead in interceptions, has thrown 17 touchdowns against 4 interceptions in the past six games, with a 65.7 percent clip, and an average of 304.3 yards per game.
Bentley has made good on a promise to better control his emotions after a video surfaced of him slamming his helmet into a chair on the sideline during a game against Texas A&M.
“I was just trying to get everyone fired up,” Bentley said, according to The Big Spur. “It’s something that looking back on it, I kind of wish I didn’t do it. Motivation is temporary; you can only motivate guys so much. We have to have the mindset to be ready to go each and every play, each and every quarter right when the game starts. It’s something that there was probably some frustration built up, but I can’t let my teammates see that.”
“It got us fired up, but I have to be the same guy the whole game,” he continued. “I have to be that even-keeled guy, whether it’s going good or going bad. I have to be the guy that is consistent. I’m an emotional guy, I get fired up more than some others, but I have to be able to control that.”
At this rate, it makes you wonder how high Bentley will be ranked among SEC quarterbacks entering 2019.