Some quick, barely researched, not fully-formed thoughts from South Carolina’s 34-28 victory over UMass:
Test drive. The Jake Bentley era at South Carolina started on Saturday (we think), and the freshman definitely gave us a lot to get excited about during a time in which we seemingly have little to get excited about. Bentley was poised, showed a strong arm and good touch. As Andre Ware pointed out on the broadcast, even though he is young he is not a “one read” quarterback. There were a couple of occasions where he was forced to look to his third receiver before making a throw.
The stage was definitely not too big for Bentley in his first college start, and it was a great first step. But the real tests will come over the next five games, which include a home game against Tennessee and road games at The Swamp and against Clemson. If he can show the same calmness and command in those games, then maybe our revolving door at quarterback will finally end.
Pumping the brakes. With 175 yards on 21 attempts through the first half, it looked like Bentley might have a chance to set some freshman records against the Minutemen. But Kurt Roper went ultra conservative in the second half trying to protect our first substantial lead of the season, and it almost backfired.
Fortunately with 4:32 left in the game Roper took the reins back off of number 4, and it resulted in a 25-yard completion and two pass interference calls that for all intents and purposes put the game away.
Dear Coach Roper, play to win, start to finish.
Back to the Future. This is the fourth time in two years we got a glimpse of our quarterback of the future, this time in the person of supposed-to-be-high-school-senior Bentley. The other three QBoFs have met with significantly different fates – transfer (Connor Mitch), position change (Lorenzo Nunez), bench (Brandon McIlwain).
Bentley was slated for a redshirt this year, and up until Saturday had watched and learned behind senior Perry Orth and fellow freshman and early enrollee McIlwain. Orth was good at times, but was wildly inconsistent and unable to get the Gamecocks into the end zone nearly enough. McIlwain was also inconsistent, and either his unwillingness to throw the ball down the field or the unwillingness of the staff to call vertical plays for him led to his undoing.
Enter Bentley, a good athlete with a powerful arm and an NFL body whom the staff wanted to keep the wrappers on until 2017. Why did they decide halfway through the season to burn his redshirt year? Two reasons IMO:
One, the staff didn’t expect the offense to be this bad this far into the season. Sure, there would be growing pains, particularly if true freshman Brandon McIlwain was the full-time starter, but I don’t think anyone expected to be 128 out of 128 FCS schools in scoring midway through the season.
Two, he improved so much over the first six weeks of the season it was seen as a last-ditch effort to salvage something positive out of this season. I believe Will Muschamp when he said early in the season that he’s not playing for next year, he wants to play the players who give him the best chance of winning now. Despite being halfway into the season, it was obvious the staff thought Jake Bentley gave USC the best chance of winning, for Saturday and beyond.
BMac. So what to make of McIlwain at this point? Hard to say. Some fans already have him filing his transfer papers. Some are still furious that he didn’t get a chance to throw the ball on Saturday, even though his inability to throw the ball is how he lost the job in the first place.
I still think there’s a plan for BMac, and I even think he’ll be given a fair shot to win the starting job in the spring. But in the meantime you might want to look at Kurt Roper’s final year at Duke if you want a clue as to how McIlwain will be used the rest of this year, and maybe beyond.
At Duke, Roper had a very good starting quarterback in Anthony Boone, but also employed backup Brandon Connette frequently. Connette is most remembered by Blue Devils as being a sure thing in short yardage and goal-to-goal situations, and finished 2013 with 14 rushing TDs and 13 passing TDs. Not bad for a backup, eh?
So if you’re angry about how McIlwain was used on Saturday just be patient. I think there’s definitely a plan, and if results in half as much production as Brandon Connette we’ll all be very happy.
DOH-fense. We have all praised the improvement of the defense this season over last, but with each passing game I get more worried. The defensive linemen can’t get off blocks, and with the exception of Darius English can’t generate a pass rush. The linebackers are average at best without Skai Moore in the middle. The safeties are just plain bad. The one bright spot it probably the spot we questioned most heading into the season, cornerback. Chris Lammons and JaMarcus King have been very, very good, and Rashad Fenton has been good in nickel packages.
But with Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd coming to town I start having flashbacks to 2014. And that ain’t good.
Bowl projections. Upset Tennessee and we can talk.
Killer Catch. Everybody was all over Jake Bentley’s first career touchdown pass talking about what a great throw it was. The throw was nice, but KC Crosby’s catch was flat out spectacular and deserves more recognition.
Classifieds. Wanted, one person who can catch a punt. Must have NCAA eligibility remaining. Other qualifications: none, just catch a punt.