Of course he’s heard it. He expected it when Jake Bentley was named South Carolina’s starting quarterback, and when the freshman led the Gamecocks to an upset of No. 18 Tennessee last week, he knew it would start coming in waves.
“It’s similar, for sure,” Steve Taneyhill said. “We’ll see here how it closes because it gets tougher. But I think they can win this week, and if they get into a bowl game, I think it was a great decision.”
Gamecock football lifers have latched on to Bentley being the second coming of Taneyhill, the swashbuckling rookie who took over a 1992 team in one of the program’s worst moments and led it to five wins in its final six games. Although Bentley doesn’t have the swagger of Taneyhill – Bentley keeps his hair in a crew cut while Taneyhill’s unbound ponytail often covered the nameplate on his jersey – the emotion and joy of playing and playing well have already left an imprint.
“You can tell he’s enjoying it and having fun, and when they score, he’s pumped up, and I love that,” Taneyhill said. “It’s a fun game and you should have fun. I love his emotion and when someone else scores, he’s fist-pumping.”
Taneyhill can never escape the image that made him famous, his back to the camera, arms signaling a touchdown as he stared down a sea of orange in Clemson’s Memorial Stadium. That picture summed up what kind of season it was in 1992 – an 0-5 USC team, in its first year in the SEC, that voted for coach Sparky Woods to quit before it calmed down.
Taneyhill played in the fifth loss and was named starting QB before Game 6, against No. 15 Mississippi State. The Gamecocks stunned the planet with a 21-6 win, and they were off on one of the best two months USC has ever had. The charismatic freshman won at Clemson and mocked the Tigers’ players and fans, forever searing himself into the rivalry.
That same picture welcomes patrons into Taneyhill’s new venture, the Group Therapy tavern in Five Points. As the Tennessee game ended, Taneyhill knew he was back in the spotlight.
“I think Jake has played well, but the other guys around him have also played great,” Taneyhill said. “Deebo (Samuel) played great, big catches by (Bryan) Edwards … I had Asim Penny and I could throw it up to him, and that helps a quarterback. He has three tailbacks, I had Brandon Bennett and Stanley Pritchett and Rob DeBoer. And both our defenses have played well.”
Taneyhill and Bentley each beat a ranked Tennessee team as freshmen (the Volunteers were 16th and 18th, respectively) and they each had three Top 25 teams on the schedule when they took over. Taneyhill wound up with wins over Mississippi State and Tennessee but lost at No. 11 Florida; Bentley has one Top 25 win under his belt and will face No. 10 Florida and No. 2 Clemson.
Taneyhill beat a Clemson team that was 5-5 and wouldn’t go to a bowl game, while Bentley is likely to play the No. 2 team in the country. Yet Bentley can get the Gamecocks to their own bowl game with two more wins (the loss to Florida was a back-breaking sixth loss for Taneyhill’s team in an 11-game season).
The former Chesterfield and Union County High head man broke down Bentley’s performance with a coach’s and a legend’s eye. He knew Bentley would be a studious QB with a great arm because of his father and brothers. He also likes how Bentley makes heady decisions not necessarily expected from a freshman.
“Like that fourth-down play,” Taneyhill said of Bentley’s first-down pickup against the Vols. “That’s one of those plays that the other guys see where he made a play that wasn’t there. That’s what builds the team’s confidence. When a QB can extend the play and guys can get downfield, that becomes a big play.”
Taneyhill hasn’t spoken to Bentley since a basketball game last winter, when Bentley was still mulling whether to report to college early. Yet he has some advice if the wins continue to mount.
“Don’t read the paper. Don’t read all the good things they say about you,” Taneyhill said. “Quarterback, a lot of times, is based on whether you win or lose. So don’t read all the headlines, because as soon as you go out there and throw two picks, it’s all going to be the opposite way.”
The merchandise that followed Taneyhill’s emergence – black USC caps with a faux blond ponytail attached in back – won’t appear for Bentley. Taneyhill might have an old one he could give the youngster, though.
Or he can at least show him how to celebrate. If Bentley wins at Clemson like Taneyhill did in 1992, he can really start his journey toward legend.
“I can do that,” Taneyhill chuckled. “Might have to show him some old VCR tapes.”
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MULLET VS. CREW CUT
How Steve Taneyhill’s 1992 takeover compares to Jake Bentley in 2016:
Named starter in Game
First win over:
No. 15 Mississippi State
Winning streak after first start
2 (and counting)
Top 25 teams on remaining schedule
SEC games on remaining schedule
Home games on remaining schedule
Passing yards in first two starts
Touchdowns in first two starts
Interceptions in first two starts