Tennessee Midseason Moves Football

In this Sept. 16 photo, South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley (19) takes a snap before kickoff of an SEC game against Kentucky in Columbia.

Sean Rayford, AP

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina was spiraling heading into its bye. The Gamecocks were 2-4 and coming off a home loss to longtime rival Georgia. The offense hadn’t strung together a complete performance behind Perry Orth or Brandon McIlwain at quarterback.

Then, during the off week, Coach Will Muschamp took a risk and it’s paid dividends a year later: he started Jake Bentley.

“It was tough. Didn’t know if it was the right decision,” Muschamp said. “I didn’t want to put him in a situation where he wasn’t successful and then you worry about, from a confidence standpoint, trying to regain that confidence. It’s so delicate at that position, in my opinion. It’s gone very well. I’m glad he’s our quarterback.”

Saturday will mark Bentley’s 12th regular season start, so essentially the one-year anniversary of the now sophomore taking over the Gamecocks’ starting role.

Since he started taking snaps, the Gamecocks are 8-5, which included a bowl loss to South Florida last season.

He’s on pace for a 60.6 completion percentage and 2,912 passing yards this season with 24 touchdowns and eight picks.

If he finishes with those numbers, it’d be good for sixth all-time for single season passing yards and tied for third in passing touchdowns.

But the biggest improvement to him is in the mental game.

“I feel more knowledgeable: from everything from protection schemes to defensive coverages. Just going out there with more knowledge,” he said. “I felt like last year it was just trying to know our plays and what we were to doing on offense. This year I’ve felt more confidence with defenses and what defenses are showing us.”

The true sophomore that skipped his senior year to enroll at South Carolina spent the offseason brushing up on learning more about the offense and embracing a leadership role on the team.

It’s shown to his teammates, whether it’s on the practice field or in the huddle.

“I feel like he’s a lot more confident. He knows what he’s doing,” A.J. Turner said. “That year of experience changes a lot. I know for me that year of experience kind of changed my game some too. So experience is important, especially the level we play at in the SEC.”

Bentley has struggled a little this season to settle down in the pocket early in games, but he’s working to get those things corrected this week.

Muschamp said after the Arkansas game Bentley and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper were going to iron out his mechanics heading into the back half of the season.

“(I’m) Just trying to quiet my feet down a little bit. This offseason we worked so much on pocket movement trying to avoid rushers with having a base ready to throw maybe too much. Right now we’re trying to quiet my feet down and just deliver the ball.”

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