South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley's rushing numbers may not look like much on paper, but that doesn't mean the sophomore won't be a challenge for Clemson during Saturday's Palmetto Bowl.
Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday during his weekly press conference that his team will "have got our hands full" containing Bentley, who's shiftier than his 77 rushing yards this season suggest.
"He’s got some craftiness to him; there’s time and time and time again on tape you think he’s sacked and somehow he breaks free," Swinney said. "When he scrambles, he finds guys on their scramble drills. That’s one thing I think he does a great job of."
Swinney pointed to one play in particular during the Gamecocks' 24-17 loss to Texas A&M, when the Aggies seemingly had Bentley sacked on 3rd-and-19; instead, Bentley evaded a pair of pass rushers and hit a streaking Shi Smith with a 45-yard dime.
"He’s got a nice arm," Swinney said. "He had a play against Texas A&M that I think epitomizes who he is. They had him sacked and bottled up, somehow he spins out and throws a big pass. If you get your hands on him, you’ve got to get him down.”
Bentley was knocked out of his first start against the Tigers last season after completing 7-of-17 passes for 41 yards and an interception but has completed 63 percent of his passes this season for 2,429 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. On the ground, Bentley's averaged just 1.2 yards on his 62 carries but has scored a team-high six rushing touchdowns — all of which coming in his last four games.
He won't be the first fleet-footed quarterback the Tigers have faced this season; they held arguably the best dual-threat quarterback in the country, Lamar Jackson, to 64 rushing yards on Sept. 16, his lowest total against a Power Five team since 2015. Jackson threw for 317 yards, but 199 of them came in the fourth quarter against Clemson's second and third string defenses.
Virginia Tech's Josh Jackson threw for 251 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions against Clemson. He rushed for just 13 yards on nine carries. Wake Forest quarterback Kendall Hinton only completed 46.7 percent of his passes but threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns (both in the fourth quarter) and ran for 92 yards.
And of course, Syracuse's Erick Dungey threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 61 yards.
Clemson linebacker Dorian O'Daniel will be one of the Tigers' defenders responsible for containing Bentley and taking away his safety options. He says the Gamecocks' signal-caller isn't necessarily looking to take off every time he leaves the pocket.
"I feel like he does a really good job of keeping his eyes downfield while he does scramble," he said." He's not really looking to run, rather than make something happen while he's trying to avoid pressure from the pocket."
The Tigers have won the past three Palmetto Bowls, including a 56-7 win in Death Valley last season during which they jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. Playing in Columbia this year, where Clemson won 37-32 in 2015, O'Daniel says it'll be vital to jump on Bentley and South Carolina early to kill any of the home team's momentum before it has a chance to grow.
"Whoever draws blood first," he said. "It's always about intensity and momentum, especially early on in the game. Just letting the other team know that we're here to impose our will."