South Carolina coach Will Muschamp broke it down this way: you don’t know how a passer will fare under a real rush until he’s in a game.
Maybe a team can go live in practice, but for the most part, the passers aren’t to be touched. The ability to feel the pocket and throw it away when needed, those are instincts that only come out in tight spots.
Taking a look at the video from Saturday’s win against Missouri, one play personifies how freshman quarterback Jake Bentley possesses that instinct.
The Gamecocks were facing a second-and-7 from their own 41 early in the second quarter of a tied game, a spot with a lot of options for play calls. There’s a certain knowledge gap about the specifics of a play when watching on video, but it looks like the call was a simple run-pass option. The line is blocking inside zone, and Bentley likely had to read a second-level defender and throw a post if he comes in on run support.
Only things broke down.
Missouri sent a blitz. The post took longer to develop. The right defensive end came screaming around the offensive tackle to rush Bentley. On all fronts, probably a busted play.
Then Bentley showed off his skills.
He started moving, looking toward Bryan Edwards, the only receiver running a pattern. Bentley snapped a throw on the run, put it outside against a corner looking at the receiver and not the ball, and dropped it into a tight spot with a sliding Edwards.
Twenty-nine yards and USC scores on the drive.
It’s worth considering the line is basically run blocking on the play, along with both tight ends. Outside the primary read, there’s only one option – one he might not be meant to work down to. And then he, along with Edwards, makes the sort of play that leaves a defensive staff frustrated.
The freshman’s passing production was still reliant on screens and deeper balls, and he shined on the latter. He went 5 for 6 on passes 20 or more yards downfield and caught the attention of Pro Football Focus.
The site, which does high-grade analysis and breakdowns, has him rated as the top thrower of deep balls in the SEC, in a small sample, and gave him a grade that would rank 24th nationally.
Gamecocks wide receiver Deebo Samuel ran only one jet sweep in the first half, scoring a touchdown with the help of blocking from Edwards and Hayden Hurst on the perimeter.
Great perimeter blocking on sweep
Gamecocks offensive coordinator Kurt Roper saw something on that play.
“Three guys moved when he moved,” Muschamp said.
So the staff decided to put it to use. To start South Carolina’s second-to-last drive, Samuel went in motion again, but tailback Rico Dowdle got the ball on a power run behind a pulling guard. Once Zack Bailey hit the linebacker, there was wide-open space for 19 yards. They ran it again, another 10 yards.
Power under jet sweep (first two):
That was one of the ways USC got Dowdle rolling on a day where he posted the most rushing yards for a Gamecock since 2014.
He started the day looking indecisive, once seeming to miss a hole and not committing to one on another run. He always had forward lean and fought through contact. Though he ran with more power and even debuted a Wildcat look on a few plays, he still mostly was used on inside zone, the base run of the offense.
Too much respect
The two runs that produced Missouri touchdowns were some of the worst defended plays of the day. South Carolina’s defense has had issues, but they were the most glaring.
The first, an inside zone run off the right side, came because linebacker Jonathon Walton tried to jump outside and whiffed a 1-on-1 tackle. That could have been less damaging, but the USC safeties were so wide in what looked like cover-2, neither could come in to cut it off. Mizzou also deployed an unbalanced line, putting an extra lineman to the right, which caused an issue.
Unbalanced line run:
Muschamp said he and the staff paid too much respect to how wide Mizzou placed its receivers, and that it will be corrected.
That problem came up again on the second run. A lead blocker took out a linebacker in the hole, while the other linebacker and slot corner appeared to be outside force players assigned to control the edge.
With both safeties split wide, the was no angle to get Ish Witter before he crossed the goal line.
Safeties too wide
Getting to him
The Tigers entered the game as one of the least sacked teams in the country, allowing only six in the first eight games.
The Gamecocks put three on them.
On the first, linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams came in unblocked and disrupted what looked like a slow-developing play. On the next, Walton came on a delayed rush, taking advantage of a running back going elsewhere and meeting D.J. Wonnum, who split that running back and a tackle, at the quarterback.
The last one came late, with the Gamecocks rushing three and flooding the field with coverage to bleed clock. Freshman lineman Keir Thomas beat a double team and got one hand on Drew Lock’s shoulder, and threw him down.
Keir Thomas sack:
▪ Guard Zack Bailey had a pair of highlight blocks. On a screen pass, he decleated a Missouri safety. On a fourth down run, he pulled up in the hole, aiming to take out a playside linebacker. The backside linebacker was in a spot to fill, so Bailey leaned over to deliver a shoulder to his face before finishing the other block.
▪ While wide receivers Samuel and Edwards get credit for winning a lot of 50-50 balls, freshman Chavis Dawkins brought in a tough one on a deep post, leaping to get the ball at its highest point against Aarion Penton, one of the top corners in the country.
Freshman outjumps top defender:
▪ With usual No. 3 wide receiver Terry Googer not playing, Samuel and Edwards played even more than their usual high allotment of snaps.