‘Gutsy. Out­stand­ing. Ac­cu­rate.’ Bent­ley de­liv­ers finest day of Game­cock ca­reer

The State (Sunday) - - Usc Football - BY BEN BREINER bbreiner@thes­tate.com

It would be un­fair to say South Carolina’s Jake Bent­ley didn’t have help on Sat­ur­day.

He had Bryan Ed­wards mak­ing a crazy catch and run. He had Deebo Sa­muel’s kick­off re­turn. He had Mon Den­son step­ping up, a line that did some good work and Ty’son Wil­liams juk­ing an un­told num­ber of Ole Miss de­fend­ers.

But the Game­cocks’ sig­nal caller wasn’t get­ting help from all ar­eas.

His de­fense stepped up late, but only af­ter al­low­ing 44 points on the first 10 drives. His of­fen­sive line was on its No. 3 left tackle, and his best guard, Zack Bai­ley, was hob­bled at points. One of his most sure-handed re­ceivers, Shi Smith, dropped a po­ten­tial game-chang­ing play that meant Bent­ley had to lead a come­back from 10 points down in the fourth quar­ter.

Yet he de­liv­ered with his arm, with his legs, when USC needed it. Again and again. He’s on start No. 27 in his ca­reer, and it’s fair to say he just put up his finest per­for­mance as a Game­cock in the 48-44 win.

“Jake Bent­ley, a gutsy per­for­mance,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “Was re­ally ac­cu­rate with the foot­ball. … Re­ally made some gutsy plays there.”

“I thought he was out­stand­ing.”

His team’s 42.8 3rd­down con­ver­sion rate was good, but not great, yet in the high­est-lever­age third down of the af­ter­noon, he made the play.

USC was fac­ing third and goal from the Ole Miss 4-yard line, down three. It’s a spot where a quar­ter­back wants that touch­down but still needs to be cog­nizant his team needs that field goal. The dif­fer­ence be­tween tied and up four points is mas­sive against an of­fense like Ole Miss, but so is the dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing tied and still down.

Bent­ley calmly sur­veyed his five re­ceivers, saw space open up and took off from the 10, see­ing the per­fect an­gle to waltz across the goal line, al­most hit­ting the let­ters in the word “REBELS” be­fore any­one made con­tact.

“They just went seven across, I say that, they just have seven guys that are right on the goal line,” Bent­ley said. “Just zone cov­er­age. In that sit­u­a­tion, we talk about, all the time, try to get it in your­self know­ing that they’re all drop­ping to zone. Just went through my reads and tried to go make a play.”

Bent­ley’s 363 yards were his sec­ond-most ever, and the most came in a two-in­ter­cep­tion bowl loss to South Florida. His rat­ing of 184.7 was also his sec­ond-best, only be­hind a blowout of Coastal Carolina to start this sea­son.

He’s ar­guably never played bet­ter against an SEC op­po­nent, cer­tainly not in a game where he had so many plays to make at the end, and not in a shootout sit­u­a­tion in the same vein as Sat­ur­day’s win.

And the win he led USC to will have some re­ver­ber­a­tions at the end of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

With a loss, USC would’ve needed an up­set to avoid 6-6. It would have, bar­ring that up­set, gone into the 12th game against Akron need­ing a last win for bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity. A .500 USC team is likely head­ing to Shreve­port or Birm­ing­ham come bowl sea­son.

Now Chat­tanooga and Akron stand be­tween USC and seven wins. That likely means a bet­ter tier of bowl. It means .500 at least be­fore con­sid­er­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of up­end­ing Florida or Clem­son. It saves a lit­tle face for a sea­son that hasn’t gone the way many hoped but could have been much worse.

And in a sea­son where Bent­ley has of­ten heard it from fans, he de­liv­ered one of his finest days in gar­net and black.

“We had to re­spond,” Bent­ley said. “That was the mes­sage all day. We’re go­ing to have re­spond each and ev­ery time they scored.

“In that mo­ment, no­body pan­icked, no­body got rat­tled.”

GAVIN MCINTYRE gm­cin­tyre@thes­tate.com

South Carolina quar­ter­back Jake Bent­ley cel­e­brates dur­ing the game against Ole Miss on Sat­ur­day at Vaught-hem­ing­way Sta­dium in Ox­ford, Miss.

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