Michael Scarnecchia is far from your average SEC quarterback.
He’s a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll recipient, has received a team GPA award, was a National Honor Society member in high school and has earned a finance degree. He also has plans to attend law school.
During the more than hour-long weather delay in the Missouri game on Saturday, multiple reports said that Scarnecchia ate a homemade peanut butter sandwich, and even went into greater detail with reporters about it being whole wheat bread, strawberry jelly and Smucker’s peanut butter.
But Scarnecchia was even more of an outlier in Williams-Brice Stadium in less than ideal conditions as the Gamecocks navigated through standing water, technical difficulties with headsets and other weather-related problems. A backup quarterback not only played as well as starter Jake Bentley has this season, especially in conference games where Bentley has 3 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, but he outplayed arguably the best quarterback prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft, Drew Lock.
Going 20-for-35 for 249 yards passing with 3 touchdowns in a conference game during a driving rainstorm is nothing to sneeze at.
Coach Will Muschamp declined to say on a Sunday media teleconference which quarterback would start once Bentley is healthy. Muschamp said he doesn’t have a strict philosophy on players’ job status if an injury is part of the decision-making process.
“Jake’s played a lot of good football for us,” Muschamp said, according to audio posted by SportsTalkSC. “It’s unfortunate when any player gets hurt. We’ll make that decision moving forward based on Jake’s health.”
A Steve Spurrier recruit, Muschamp noted that two years ago, Scarnecchia had labrum surgery, and missed practice time all season.
“Mike is extremely intelligent and throws the ball extremely well,” Muschamp said. “I think this (past) spring is where you saw him make a little jump in terms of having a little more confidence in what we do, and I think you can go back and look at my comments from spring that we felt very comfortable with Mike, and if he was called upon, that he would do a really good job for us.”
As an example for other players in the locker room, Muschamp said he asked Scarnecchia in front of the team how many snaps he played in before Saturday as a reminder that an individual’s current situation might not be so bleak. Then Muschamp noted that Scarnecchia made more completions than he previously had snaps.
“This is a guy who’s never complained, never had an issue with anything,” Muschamp said. “Be straight up with him and told him where he is and what he needs to do to get better, and that’s what he’s done.”
There is a theory around South Carolina that if Bentley is healthy by Saturday’s game against Texas A&M, he should return to his starting role. The two players have competed for two seasons and Muschamp admitted that Scarnecchia only turned a corner in the spring.
The wider view is that Missouri’s pass defense left much to be desired, and that Scarnecchia’s performance was inflated by the sub-par opponent. The Tigers, after all, gave up 572 passing yards to Purdue and 260 to Georgia, with 3 TDs each, and rank No. 13 in the SEC at giving up 284 yards per game. However, Texas A&M’s pass defense is only slightly better than Missouri’s. They’ve each given up 10 passing touchdowns, and have both allowed more than 1,400 yards.
Perhaps most comforting for the Gamecocks is what Missouri coach Barry Odom said after the game.
“They didn’t really change who they were offensively with the guy they had in,” he said. “I thought he played an efficient football game.”
As it stands now, Odom brought up a useful point that South Carolina might consider going forward. The Tigers prepared for all three of South Carolina’s quarterbacks, including freshman Dakereon Joyner, who has better running ability than Scarnecchia or Bentley.
To Odom’s point, Scarnecchia offers South Carolina a best-case scenario insurance policy and multiple options to choose from going forward.