Jake Bentley picked a fine time to try to tone down his emotions.
South Carolina was playing its first home night game of the season against Tennessee last week. The Gamecocks were coming off a discouraging loss to Texas A&M, a game in which Bentley was booed on several occasions. And South Carolina really needed a win against the struggling Vols.
At the beginning, things weren’t going well. South Carolina’s first possession ended after three plays. Its second drive ended with Bentley’s eighth interception of the season. The Gamecocks scored three points in the first quarter, and the Williams-Brice Stadium crowd was getting restless again.
“They buy a ticket, they can boo all they want,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said of the USC fans’ relationship with their quarterback. “It’s never helped me coach better. It’s never helped him play better. It’s never helped recruiting, but if they want to buy a ticket and boo that’s fine, all good.”
It never got to that point against the Vols, though, as Bentley and the Gamecocks found enough rhythm to get a 27-24 victory. Bentley finished 11-of-16 for 152 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
It was the fifth-fewest passing yards of his 26 career starts, but Bentley believed after the game that he did “a great job” because of the way he managed his emotions.
“I thought our whole offense did a great job of staying patient, trusting the game plan, not quitting and playing the whole game,” he said. “I thought it was one of the most compete games we’ve played all year.”
Bentley’s emotions have been the subject of scrutiny since he took over the starting job as a true freshman in 2016. He talked with “some coaches” and Gamecocks strength coach Jeff Dillman during the two weeks before the Tennessee game about how to better channel his emotions before the game, he said.
“About what guys where (Dillman) has been have handled themselves,” Bentley said. “For me, it’s about not riding the roller coaster of emotion through a game.”
Bentley is sixth in the SEC in passing with 217.2 yards per game this year. On Saturday, he’ll face the conference’s leading passer, Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who is throwing for 327.8 yards per game. Bentley has 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions, which is the most turnovers of any quarterback in the conference.
He believes channeling his emotions better will help him take care of the ball better as South Carolina finishes out the season, and he said his key will be “knowing when to use” an emotional outburst to motivate his team and when to remain calm.
“It’s just really being in the game and understanding that when we score a touchdown, we’ll need to score a lot more to win the game,” he said. “I’m still going to be emotional, that’s how I am.”