COLUMBIA -- No one really expected Jake Bentley to keep the ball on the zone read, but here he was holding it tight to his chest booking it into the end zone for the Gamecocks' first score.
It was his first rushing touchdown as a Gamecock and sparked what was his best rushing performance of his career as he showcased one of the newest wrinkles in his game.
“Believe it or not, in middle school and little league, I used to run it all the time,” he said, chuckling. “I was bigger than everyone, so I just kind of ran around and did whatever. Now there are big linemen that I’m not bigger than.”
Bentley rushed for a career-high 55 yards and two touchdowns, with some coming on different scrambles as the pocket broke down and others as designed runs that were zone reads.
Excluding sacks, which count for rushes in college football, he carried the ball five times, the second most true runs this season. It also comes on the heels of a Tennessee game where he began to keep the ball on more zone reads.
It’s something paying dividends right now.
“You really don’t see Jake run the ball a lot,” running back A.J. Turner said. ”That was a game plan thing having Jake pull some lines every now and again. I think he did a great job. Jake running, that’s always fun to watch. But he was effective.”
Effective yes, but his teammates didn’t miss a chance to make fun of him.
After his head-fake that sent a Vanderbilt defender flying in the other direction to set up the team’s first touchdown, he was subject to a little good-natured ribbing on the sideline.
“I made a little move, all the guys were making fun of me saying it was the slowest juke move they’ve ever seen,” he said, laughing. “I don’t care; it worked.”
But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Bentley was subject to a few big hits while running, including being targeted once while rolling out in the pocket and being hit in the head while sliding that was not called by the officials.
Will Muschamp, who couldn’t comment on the officiating or non-calls after the game, seemed to be lobbying for penalties on those hits.
For Bentley, though, it’s just part of the game.
“Any time the quarterback runs it’s like a little minnow in a pool of sharks. They’re going to come after you; that’s any quarterback,” he said. “Every defense, you see their eyes light up when the quarterback runs. The refs call what they call and we just have to move on.”
On one run, he was breaking to the sideline trying to get a first down. He made a late decision to give himself up near the marker, but was clipped in the head by a diving Vanderbilt defender while going out of bounds.
For his teammates, they’d like to see him work the safety slide into his running repertoire more often.
“Sometimes I wish he’d slide a bit sooner,” lineman Zack Bailey said. “Every time he runs it’s like the last second he decides to slide. It scares the s—t out of me.”
Regardless of penalties or not, Bentley’s running ability and the introduction of a true zone read gives the Gamecocks an interesting fold to the offensive playbook.
And who know? Maybe the added reps on the ground can help Bentley polish his already-famous running style.
“Like Mike Vick,” safety Steven Montac said laughing, “if you ask me.”