Jake Bentley discusses his growth as a player, his plan for cutting down on turnovers
The drought had a chance to end. Will Muschamp could have easily trotted out Parker White for a 28-yard field goal to bring South Carolina within 18 points of Virginia with just less than 17 minutes remaining in the Belk Bowl.
“Hell, I’m trying to win the game,” Muschamp said, “we needed to get seven on the board.”
There were three chapters that told the story of USC’s offense in 2018. The first seven games featured the highs of a balanced performance at Vanderbilt and an impressive relief showing by Michael Scarnecchia against Missouri and the lows of a crushing, foreshadowing turnover against Georgia and a dud at Kentucky. The next four and a half games were headlined by Jake Bentley’s strong second half and a record-setting night in Clemson.
And then came the empty finish.
When Bentley and company take the field against North Carolina on Aug. 31 in Charlotte, they’ll be seeking their first points since a 5-yard Deebo Samuel receiving touchdown with 1:33 left in the first half of a 28-3 win over Akron on Dec. 1.
Year 1 with Bryan McClendon as Carolina offensive coordinator — a relative success — ending with no points over the final six quarters.
“I thought Bryan did a really good job,” Muschamp said Wednesday as part of SEC Media Days. “Obviously we didn’t end the year the way we wanted to and you get shut out in the bowl game. A little of that’s on me. We were down three scores at one time, we could have kicked a field goal just so we could score.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I thought there were some really good things that we did as the year moved forward.”
McClendon, Muschamp’s replacement for the fired Kurt Roper, led South Carolina to six more points (30.1) and 88 more yards per game (426.2) than the previous season. At times, it was an electric unit, particularly in Death Valley on Nov. 24 when it became the only team to hang 30-plus on the eventual national champs.
But what happened after that?
“At Carolina, we want solutions, not excuses,” Bentley said Wednesday. “So when I say the weather was bad (rain against Akron), I’m not giving an excuse. I’m just saying that’s something we need to practice more. And that’s something that me, myself, I wasn’t prepared for, it being that bad of conditions. We weren’t necessarily locked in the whole game.
“And then the Virginia game, Deebo (Samuel) didn’t play. And I think no one realized the impact that had on us. And then we don’t execute on fourth down real early. The momentum of games can just change so rapidly. And I think when we didn’t get that (first down), it just kind of got negative on us and couldn’t get out of it.”
USC got into Virginia territory on its first Belk Bowl possession. It ended, however, when Bentley’s pass to Rico Dowdle bounced off the running back’s hands on fourth-and-1 from the 43-yard line. The Gamecocks got on UVa’s side of the field five times after that but failed to score, including a missed White field goal attempt in the first quarter.
Familiar faces from that afternoon are back for 2019, one reason why Muschamp has labeled this roster his most talented since arriving in Columbia four years ago. There’s skill and experience in this bunch, led by Bentley and senior receiver Bryan Edwards. Among their goals: Look like the Gamecock offense that showed up for games last year against Ole Miss, Florida, Chattanooga, Clemson and first two quarters against Akron (10.6 points per quarter, 7.3 yards per play, 25 red zone chances) and not the last 90 minutes against the Zips and Cavaliers (no points, 4.2 yards per play, three red zone chances).
“I kind of leave last year in the past, you know the drops, the inconsistencies we had, all that stuff’s in the past,” Edwards said. “It’s time for us to put all that stuff in the past and just control what we can control, take it one game at a time. All that stuff in the past, we can’t worry about it. When you start worrying about stuff like that, it kind of rolls over.”