HOOVER, Ala. — Jake Bentley recalls the days in which maturity eluded him.

It occurred during the South Carolina-Florida game in 2016. The Gamecocks were losing. Bentley was defeated even before the 20-7 final score was official. He admitted that he moped during that game.

“Poor me,” the Gamecock quarterback said Wednesday at SEC Media Days, recalling his feelings at the time. “I’m not playing good.”

Bentley deserved some slack at the time. He was just a freshman and was actually supposed to be a senior in high school. However, he graduated early in order to jump start what was supposed to be a stellar college career. He’s still working toward that goal, but there have been bumps in the road.

Bentley went from being a sure thing to a sure-fire turnover waiting to happen. He has thrown 26 interceptions the past 2 years. He threw 14 interceptions last season, which led the SEC. In fact, he blew away the competition. Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond, who threw 10 interceptions last season, finished second in the conference.

If Bentley should know anything, it’s how to respond to throwing the football to the other team given his experience in doing so.

“When an interception happens, you as a quarterback you know if it was your fault or not or if it was tipped or something,” Bentley said. “If it was tipped, I immediately go to the receiver and say I’ve got to throw it better and put it on me. There’s no reason to put it on the receiver and have him have a bad game the rest of the game.

“Put it on me, jog off the field and make sure nobody on offense thinks you’re defeated. If your team thinks your team is defeated, then it’s going to affect everything. You’ve got to jog off the field and let everyone know that you’re still in this. You’re still going to battle.

“Then, just regroup. Go back and think about what happened. Could it have been avoided? Could it not have? Just inspire the team to go back. …That’s one thing that I’ve learned. You talk about maturity; going back to my freshman year and learning from that.”

That sounds good, but Bentley’s repeated use of the word “maturity” and how his has improved makes one wonder whether that’s always been the case. With a daunting schedule, he has to be more mature. There’s no question the Gamecocks will face trials and tribulations this season. How will Bentley respond? In order to salvage a winning season, 1 loss can’t lead to more moping. Bentley knows he can’t act like he did as a freshman. In fact, he’ll likely have to inspire some mopers along the way.

“Now I just feel like, senior year, it’s my job to get us back going,” Bentley said. “I’ve got to go down the line, get the guys fired up and get ready to go. Just maturity in that way and maturity on the field.”

Bentley needs to live up to his words. If not, he’ll have a greater reason to mope than just losing a game. If he struggles as much as he did last season, he might be moping over being benched, especially with 4-star quarterback prospect Ryan Hilinski on the depth chart behind him.

This season will define Bentley’s career and legacy in Columbia. With 7,385 yards and 54 touchdown passes, he’s ahead of pace to become South Carolina’s all-time leader in both. He trails Todd Ellis by 2,568 yards and Steve Taneyhill by 8 touchdown throws.

However, the final record shouldn’t be part of the definition. As Steve Spurrier noted earlier, the Gamecocks could play well and finish 6-6 this season. However, a .500 record seems like a long shot if Bentley keeps turning the ball over at an alarming rate. Simply holding onto the starting job and limiting mistakes would be something positive to remember about Bentley’s career. Bentley has the ability. Despite his interceptions, he finished fifth in the conference in passer rating.

In Bentley’s defense, he has undergone a coaching change, which means a new offense, and the lack of talent left by Spurrier, who was uninterested in recruiting during his final years in Columbia.

Whether it’s Bentley’s fault or not, his clock as a starter is ticking and it’s running fast.

If the Gamecocks struggle and Hilinski is ready to play, the Gamecocks might start looking to the future. That’s clearly not the way he wants to close out his career.

Will Muschamp said Bentley isn’t focused on breaking records but also noted, if those numbers fall, obviously that means he’s playing well enough to give the Gamecocks a chance to win.

That’s what everybody wants.