USC Gamecocks Football

Staring down his final season, what Jake Bentley worked on to make 2019 his best yet

Jake Bentley discusses his growth as a player, his plan for cutting down on turnovers

South Carolina football quarterback Jake Bentley speaks Wednesday, July 17, 2019, as part of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.
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South Carolina football quarterback Jake Bentley speaks Wednesday, July 17, 2019, as part of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.

When Jake Bentley started going to SEC Media Days, the South Carolina quarterback was still someone introduced as a player who was barely be out of high school.

Now in his third trip to the SEC’s annual football season preview media event, he’s a veteran, a different player. And he’s a little more knowledgeable about the conference’s zoo of cameras and reporters that signify the final stretch toward preseason practice and the season.

“I guess I’m more relaxed now,” Bentley said Wednesday. “The first year, it felt like a bunch of piranhas. This year, it’s just relaxed and knowing how special our team is going to be.”

Note the veteran touch, taking a question about him and turning it to be on the team. Not every freshman knows how to do that.

He also knew how to enjoy the day’s rigmarole a little.

“Really here to have a good time,” Bentley said. “Had to spice it up with the shoe game this year. I was trying to teach Bryan (Edwards) and T.J. (Brunson) how it’s going to be (Wednesday).”

Flanked by a pair of senior first-timers, he broke out a pair of blue leather loafers with no socks and slacks that ended at his ankles. It drew a little commentary from the coach who has started him at QB going on a fourth season.

“What is that?” Will Muschamp said of Bentley’s fashion choice, drawing a laugh from reporters.

Bentley heads into his final chapter answering a few old questions and closing in on a few top spots in South Carolina’s record books.

Case in point: The first question he fielded was about turnovers. He tossed 14 interceptions as a junior, 12 the year before. But he also said he’s worked to clean some things up in his game.

During a trip to the Manning Passing Academy, a prestigious quarterback camp run by the Manning family, he got a gauge on his progress.

“A lot of feedback saying I looked a lot cleaner, fundamentally,” Bentley said. “A lot more confident, a lot stronger, a lot better body shape I guess.

“Obviously a lot to work on still.”

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley speaks to reporters during the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days, Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in Hoover, Ala. Butch Dill AP

Bentley said he and Muschamp spoke about the turnovers during their season-ending meetings, emphasizing red zone giveaways. The focus in the film room was his thought process on those plays.

Despite negotiating those challenges, he stands within striking distance of some notable statistical marks. Coming off the season with the third-most yards (3,171) and second-most touchdowns (27) for any Gamecock, he stands seven scores and 2,568 yards from the overall marks.

His coach isn’t too concerned about that.

“I think, if you ask Jake Bentley — I probably could respond for him — but I don’t think he’s overly concerned about any records,” Muschamp said. “He’s concerned about winning football games and concentrating on what he’s got to do to help our team be successful and win games on Saturday afternoons.

“Now, with that being said, if we’re winning those games, he’s playing well, so I think they kind of work hand-in-hand.”

Bentley said records might be something he’d cherish down the road, well after the games have been played.

Through enrolling early, being thrust into the starting job as a freshman, two offensive coordinators and nearly seeing his dad leave the coaching staff for a job at Auburn, Bentley now stands at the edge of his final campaign. He arrived with much fanfare and has developed into a passer at the fringe of the conference’s upper echelon. The final question looms: Is there one more step to make and can he take it?

At least one expert, ESPN’s Cole Cubelic, thinks it’s possible.

“I think that there’s room for growth in his game,” Cubelic said in Hoover. “I think he’s somebody that can make improvements in different areas and there are little things technically and fundamentally that he can work that can help him with certain throws. I think for Jake Bentley, it’s a comfort level.

“I expect him to have a better year than he had a year ago. Now, is the schedule going to allow for three or four more wins? Maybe not. But I do think that Jake Bentley is ready to take that step.”