It might be overstatement to say the insertion of true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley to the Gamecocks lineup makes it feel like a whole new season.
But it’s also not completely untrue.
“It does a little bit,” tight end Hayden Hurst said. “He’s just instilled just a confidence in the offense, they way that he carries himself, steps on the field, he expects us to score every single time.”
Since Bentley arrived, the offense showed more life and the team has two more wins. The second, Saturday’s 24-21 win against then-No. 18 Tennessee, also changed the direction of the season.
Before that, this week’s Missouri game projected as a tossup against another team in the bottom half of the SEC East to improve a record in a tough first year under head coach WIll Muschamp. Now a win against the Tigers means a bowl trip is likely on the horizon.
Coming off a big win, younger squads can feel full of themselves and be prone to letdowns. South Carolina’s staff has made a point of trying to prevent that.
“The biggest thing coach wants is for us just to stay focused,” Hurst said, “not get complacent with one SEC win. You’ve got to come out there with the same intensity and the same urgency all season.”
On the outside it seemed like a different sort of urgency, though players regularly talk about approaching things game by game and not looking at the whole flow of a schedule.
One week Bentley comes in and boosts the offense. The next week, that offense comes in and boosts the team to its first win against a ranked team in two years.
And that provides its own sort of boost.
“Getting a win like that is huge, especially for these younger guys,” Hurst said. “Losing is never fun. When you can get a huge win like that against a team like Tennessee, it lifts the morale.”