Don't look now, but SC has most explosive QB-WR combo in the East
Think of some of the best receivers in South Carolina history.
All-time greats come along regularly for the Gamecocks.
They include Robert Brooks, Sterling Sharpe, Zola Davis, Sidney Rice, Kenny McKinley and Alshon Jeffery. Think of the quarterbacks who fed them the ball: Todd Ellis, Steve Taneyhill, Blake Mitchell, Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw.
By the end of their careers, make room for one more tandem: Deebo Samuel and Jake Bentley.
As it stands, the Gamecocks already boast the most explosive passing duo in the SEC East. Sure, there are receivers Antonio Callaway at Florida, Jauan Jennings at Tennessee and J’Mon Moore at Missouri. But the combination of quarterback and receiver puts Samuel and Bentley in a class by themselves.
The unbridled optimism was on full tilt Saturday evening as Samuel took apart North Carolina State for five catches, 83 yards and two touchdowns. That took his career numbers to 76 catches for 1,027 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add in all-purpose touchdowns like the 97-yard kickoff return and Samuel has 13 scores in his career. He even added some sizzle to the third quarter touchdown with a 39-yard catch with his left hand. Samuel is in the top 10 in the SEC in receiving, and may receive extra credit for the type of defense he did it against — N.C. State, especially its front seven, was highly regarded entering the season.
Against Missouri this week, Samuel could be poised for another big game. Last week against Missouri State, the Tigers gave up six plays of at least 20 yards in a 72-43 victory.
Mizzou coach Barry Odom: "Deebo Samuel … I think he's one of the best guys in the country. I thought that last year, too."
— David Cloninger (@DCPandC) September 4, 2017
Take Samuel’s 11 career touchdowns, and square them against the all-time school record of 23 shared by Jeffery and Rice, and Samuel can easily threaten that this season before facing the decision of whether to leave for the NFL and give up his senior campaign. Put Samuel in the category of a top-five receiver in the SEC in production; he could be responsible for 1,000 receiving yards this season, typical for a top-flight pass catcher. A 1,000-yard season would put Samuel in the top 10 of Gamecocks’ receivers in career yards. Of course, much of that is contingent on Samuel staying healthy and avoiding the hamstring injuries that have plagued much of his career.
Samuel missed three games last year and was still in the top 10 in the SEC in receiving with 783 yards on 59 receptions.
If Samuel can deliver 1,000 yards, that would put him alongside Sharpe in 1986 with 1,106 yards, Pharoah Cooper in 2014 at 1,136, Rice in 2005 at 1,143 and Jeffery, the school’s all-time single-season leader, with 1,517 in 2010.
Bentley, meanwhile, has long been mentioned with program greats in his young career, entering unchartered territory as a freshman last season. He entered this season first on the school’s all-time list for career completion percentage at 65.8. Against N.C. State, Bentley’s 215 passing yards was the 10th most in a season opener in school history, and the most in a season opener since Dylan Thompson threw for 366 yards against Texas A&M in 2014. The Gamecock season-opener record is 405 by Taneyhill against Georgia in 1994.
After a freshman campaign of seven games when he was 125-for-190 for 1,420 yards with nine TDs and four interceptions, Bentley is on pace for more than 8,000 yards if he stays four seasons. That would put him past Garcia (7,597) and in the neighborhood of Taneyhill (8,782). If he puts the pedal to the metal, he could get within shouting distance of the school’s all-time passing leader, Todd Ellis, at 9,953.
Last year, Bentley was also ranked the best deep-ball passer in the SEC by Pro Football Focus after he registered a 64.7 adjusted completion percentage on deep throws.
“You kind of just go back to all the training you have done, all the offseason and summer training and you know where he’s going to be,” Bentley was quoted as saying by The State. “I feel like sometimes with Bryan (Edwards) and Deebo, I could just close my eyes and throw it and I know exactly where they would be. I just let it fly and hope they go get it.”