COLUMBIA – The University of South Carolina football team owns a 2-4 record, including a 1-4 Southeastern Conference mark that leaves it far out of contention in the Eastern Division race.
The offensive line has underperformed, and the top receivers have been unable to remain healthy.
The defense has struggled to stop opponents' rushing games.The special teams, with the exception of punter Sean Kelly and place-kicker Elliott Fry, also have underperformed.
Despite all the problems USC has had to address during the team’s open week, one topic has garnered all of the public attention.
As the squad prepares for Saturday’s noon game against UMass in Williams-Brice Stadium, all that has seemed to matter was who would be Carolina’s starting quarterback.
While all signs point to freshman Jake Bentley, USC coach Will Muschamp has kept the decision a secret.
Senior Perry Orth and freshman Brandon McIlwain, who began the season ahead of Bentley, have had their moments. Neither has displayed the consistency needed to lead an offense with all the challenges the Gamecocks face.
Bentley, at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, offers different abilities than his teammates. He is big enough to stand in the pocket and see the entire field. If the pocket breaks down, he is not a statue. While he does not have McIlwain’s scrambling ability, Bentley does have what it takes to get out of trouble with his legs.
If Bentley does start, the move appears to have come at an opportune time. The Minutemen (1-6) are allowing 262.4 yards passing per game.
Like McIlwain, who entered USC rated by ESPN as the No. 7 "dual-threat" quarterback prospect, Bentley has a pedigree for success. The son of a former quarterback, he also has two older brothers who have started on the NCAA Division I level. He entered USC ranked the No. 2 quarterback and No. 33 overall prospect in the ESPN Junior 300.
Despite what appears to be a good matchup for Bentley to make his debut, Muschamp believes keeping his opponent guessing benefits the Gamecocks.
“It's hard because you've got different skill sets for different people,” Muschamp said. “Obviously, it's going to predicate what you call in a game based on who's at quarterback. So you make them prepare for a lot of different looks and you're going to rep more things at practice than you're going to call in a game anyways.You're going to rep even more so when you're repping for multiple looks.”
Willie T. Smith, The Greenville News