Josh Kendall

In the QB-killing SEC, Jake Bentley has been a survivor

Alabama and Georgia have gotten tired of waiting for the fabled “Year of the Quarterback” to arrive in the Southeastern Conference.

This was supposed to be the season that young signal-callers matured and new five-star blood came into the league and quality quarterbacking abounded across the region. Instead, fan bases everywhere are complaining about this guy’s inexperience or that guy’s inaccuracy.

Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs have become the two best teams in the conference by finding a workaround. They are taking the quarterback position back in time 60 years, inserting a respected “leader of men,” a field general who inspires his troops with his team-first attitude but in his heart of hearts believes the only yards really worth having come via the A-gap.

Alabama’s Jalen Hurts throws for 146 yards per game. Georgia’s Jake Fromm averages 166. You’d trust both to baby-sit your child, neither with 40 passes per game. Asked to beat an opponent by dropping back and throwing the football again and again, both would be completely lost. Pulling the levers of the rolling death machines that are the Crimson Tide and Georgia running games, 303 yards and 283 yards per game on the ground, respectively, they are ideal.

The SEC’s two remaining unbeatens have taken what is supposed to be the most important position on the field and reduced it to just another cog in the machine, and maybe that’s the smart way to go about things.

Maybe the “Year of the Quarterback” is just not coming to the SEC.

Maybe playing the position in the SEC is just too hard.

Will Hewlett has had that thought. Hewlett is quarterbacks coach at The Range, a private quarterback school in Livermore, Calif. South Carolina fans might remember Hewlett because he is the longtime former private coach of former Gamecocks quarterback Brandon McIlwain, who is now at Cal.

“I’m just looking at overall lack of production,” Hewlett said. “We always talk about how good SEC defenses are, but is it a quarterback issue. Is it a coaching issue? Is it the defenses are too far ahead?”

Hewlett’s opinion is not based on sour grapes, simply on what he sees when he watches. For example, he doesn’t believe it’s a coaching issue

“I can’t imagine that it’s a coaching issue offensively. It’s not that the coaches are not qualified or not smart enough,” he said. “For the most part, the guys that get there get there because they are darn good coaches.”

It’s just that the league seems to be eating up quarterbacks, and that might be for one simple reason. McIlwain transferred to Cal after leaving South Carolina, and Hewlett asked him recently what the difference was between the Pac-12 and the SEC. His answer was immediate: the defensive linemen.

“He said there is a noticeable difference in the speed of the rush from defensive linemen,” Hewlett said. “He remarked that DBs and the skill positions are all very similar. It’s just that the D-line is just insane. I think that really affects quarterback play, it really does.”

Hewlett hasn’t seen the difficulty of playing quarterback in the SEC become an issue used against the conference on the recruiting trail, but he could see a time where it becomes one, he said.

All of this puts into proper perspective the kind of year South Carolina’s Jake Bentley is having. He is third in the SEC in passing with 226.4 yards per game. The two players higher than him on the list are the two most talented throwers in the league – Shea Patterson at Ole Miss and Drew Lock at Missouri. Patterson averages 357.2 yards per game through the air. Lock averages 287, and their teams are horrible, a combined 1-7 in conference play.

This season, Bentley has lost one of the country’s best wide receivers, played for a month behind an offensive line missing three starters and hasn’t had the support of a consistent running game. He hasn’t been perfect, but nobody in this quarterback-killing league has been.

In the SEC these days, good looks pretty great, and Bentley has been really good.

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