South Carolina freshman quarterback Jake Bentley will make his second road start on Saturday night at Clemson in front of a crowd that has often rattled opponents this season.
It would be understandable for most freshmen quarterbacks to be intimidated by the Death Valley environment, but Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said Bentley isn’t like most freshmen quarterbacks.
“He’s a mature kid. He’s been around this state. He’s been to Clemson many times,” Swinney said. “He’s not going to be overwhelmed by that. He understands what he’s getting into.”
Swinney has followed Bentley since he was an eighth grader.
He also has a great respect for Bentley’s dad, Bobby, who was a legendary high school coach at Brynes and is now the running backs coach at South Carolina.
“(Jake) is obviously well-groomed to be a very successful college quarterback,” Swinney said. “He’s very knowledgeable and has a great understanding of what they’re doing offensively.”
The Gamecocks are 4-1 under Bentley, but the loss was on the road against Florida. USC enters Saturday’s game 1-3 on the road, its only win coming in the opener at Vanderbilt.
The most points USC has scored on the road is 14 in a 27-14 loss to Mississippi State.
USC’s offensive line struggled to keep Bentley upright against the Gators. He was sacked five times and USC didn’t get on the board until the fourth quarter.
Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins is hoping the Tigers can apply similar pressure on Bentley and force him into making mistakes.
“He’s never played in a game like this or in a rivalry like this,” Wilkins said. “I don’t know if he’ll be up for the challenge or not, but we’ll definitely try to rattle him.”
Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables is hopeful his unit can get pressure on Bentley when rushing four but said if not, Clemson will have a plan in place to blitz.
Venables added that even in the Florida game he was impressed with the way Bentley played despite the Gamecocks struggling to put points on the board.
“They’ve got a good future with him in control. He’s got good poise, good decision making. You can see he’s well-schooled,” Venables said. “He throws a great ball. He’s got some strength in the pocket and excellent pocket awareness and presence to him. He’s playing with confidence.”
Even though teams have managed to sack Bentley 17 times in five starts, Clemson linebacker Kendall Joseph said the freshman does a nice job of moving in the pocket and avoiding hits.
“He has very good mechanics as a quarterback,” Joseph said. “He’s a big size quarterback with a big arm. You see him controlling that offense and week-by-week it looks better.”
USC (6-5) vs. Clemson (10-1)
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. | Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
TV: ESPN | Line: Clemson by 24