Jake Bentley’s knee is bruised. His confidence? Not at all that his teammates can tell.
“You’re going to have some tough games, especially playing at this level, it just comes with it,” South Carolina senior quarterback Perry Orth said. “He’s kept a good attitude.”
Bentley, the Gamecocks’ true freshman starting quarterback, hasn’t been good in his past two outings against FBS competition. He was a combined 25-for-50 passing for 354 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns against Florida and Clemson. He also fumbled once.
It’s impossible for most of us to know how he’s feeling about that because South Carolina coach Will Muschamp hasn’t allowed Bentley or any of his first-year freshmen to speak to the media all season, but Bentley’s veteran teammates said he’s handled the struggles well.
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“You have to have short-term memory in football, especially at this level,” Orth said. “You have a good game, everybody wants to praise you, but you play a few days later and you have a bad game and everybody wants the backup in. He has done a really good job of getting ready for the (bowl) game.”
Unlike Orth and freshman Brandon McIlwain earlier this season, Bentley’s in no danger of losing his starting job after a couple of bad games. Earlier this month, he shared the team’s Steve Wadiak MVP trophy (with Deebo Samuel), an award that is voted on by the players, and Muschamp fiercely believes Bentley is the quarterback to lead his team into the Dec. 29 Birmingham Bowl against South Florida and the 2017 season after that.
Muschamp’s trust in Bentley is so great he won’t publicly consider the fact that a rough stretch might shake the confidence of his young quarterback.
“He’ll be fine,” Muschamp said.
That’s the same thing Muschamp thinks about Bentley’s physical health as well. Bentley didn’t play in the second half against Clemson with a bone bruise on his right knee. He tore the ACL in both knees in separate incidents during his high school career, and he underwent an MRI the day after the Clemson game to make sure there was no new structural damage.
Muschamp doesn’t believe Bentley’s history of knee injuries makes him any more susceptible to future injury.
“Modern day technology is pretty neat,” Muschamp said. “Those doctors all think they are really good.”
Bentley is wearing a knee brace at practice this week, junior running back David Williams said.
“He looks good,” Williams said. “I don’t know if it’s because we’re not in live action, but he looks normal. After the game, he was frustrated that he got hurt and couldn’t continue to help his team, but he hasn’t been moping around or anything.”
Bentley has spent extra time in the film room during South Carolina’s break from practice to prepare for the Bulls’ defense, Orth said.
“He’s really stepping up as a leader and a quarterback,” freshman running back A.J. Turner said. “He’s working really hard to make up on his mistakes, just like we all are. We all make mistakes. It all comes back to competing and just wanting to do the right thing.”
Bentley, who is one of two college players in the country who still could be playing high school football this season (Kansas safety Mike Lee is the other), has completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,030 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions in the six games since he was named the Gamecocks starter. Bentley’s precocious maturity has helped him handle his recent struggles, senior offensive lineman Mason Zandi said.
“Jake is a fierce competitor. He loves to compete. He loves to win,” Zandi said. “He loves the process, and that’s important. If you can love the process at such a young age, the sky is the limit for you.”
Who: South Carolina (6-6) vs. South Florida (10-2)
When: 2 p.m., Dec. 29
Where: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
Line: USF by 10 1/2