Jake Bentley describes his view of his own legacy, record chase
The college experiences of South Carolina’s Jake Bentley and Georgia’s D.J. Shockley stand in vivid contrast.
Bentley was a starter halfway through his freshman season and is dealing with the pitfalls of being a longtime college starter. Shockley had to wait his turn, only getting to start as a college senior and delivering a big final campaign.
Now Bentley is heading into his own last season, and Shockley, an analyst with the SEC Network, singled out the fourth-year signal caller as he picked out keys for each conference team.
“It has to be Jake Bentley and the stars around him,” Shockley said last week. “But I think the biggest thing is what they do in the red zone. They have really struggled in the red zone this past year. In the red zone alone, they were 13th.”
South Carolina’s offense took a step forward overall, jumping to become a top-30 or so unit. But the scoring didn’t follow as more than one fifth of their trips to the red zone ended with no points.
And some of that is on Bentley.
“Jake Bentley has to do a better job of taking care of the football,” Shockley said. “This is a team that had six turnovers in the red zone last season, and five of them were Jake Bentley throwing interceptions.”
At least one, against Georgia, came in a desperation spot where it had to be forced in, but the Gamecocks were a dismal 98th in touchdown percentage when they got into the red zone.
The SEC Network broke out a set of stats to show just how big the issues were close to the goal line.
In the red zone, USC ranked:
▪ 11th in the SEC in TD percent at 57
▪ 11th in QBR at 44
▪ Worst in the conference in turnovers
▪ Worst in the conference at 2.0 yards per rush, 120th in the country
Shockley acknowledged those running issues did put more pressure on Bentley.
The Gamecocks face a tricky situation in 2019 with a slate so challenging their record will almost assuredly not reflect the quality of the team. Beyond facing the preseason No. 1, 2 and 3 teams, they also get top-15 teams in Florida and Texas A&M, plus feisty Missouri and a smattering of solid teams/programs in Kentucky, Tennessee and Appalachian State.
That means Bentley’s final chapter will be steeped in challenging foes every week and a record that might not look all that great. He’s within striking distance of the program’s all-time yardage and touchdown records.
But Shockley also saw some transition in last year’s team, as Bentley posted one of the better statistical seasons in program history.
“I think they’re still trying to figure out, what is best for Jake Bentley?” Shockley said. “Offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon came in last season, and they wanted to go a little bit faster. Well with faster, comes better decisions, things have to happen a little bit faster.”
That’s a chance Shockley never really got. He backed up David Green for years and finally broke through in 2005, adding a dual-threat element to the Bulldog attack. They had arguably the best offense in the SEC and upset LSU in the conference title game.
Shockley should also have a bit of a line into what’s happening in Columbia. His one season included Gamecocks running backs coach Thomas Brown as his top running back, while McClendon was his second-best receiver.
“Maybe in his second year in this system, things start to click for him,” Shockley said of Bentley. “And he becomes a more accurate passer, he makes better decisions, and with that becomes a better Jake Bentley. He has to do that his last year, he has no more time to do it. This is the time for him to go out and play his best football.”