Jake Bentley drew a considerable amount of hype coming into the 2017 season for good reason — he helped pull South Carolina back from the dead and into a bowl in his freshman season.
As a sophomore Bentley had looked fine through his first two games, completing 61.4 percent of his passes at 7.1 yards a pass with four touchdowns and one interception. Bentley didn’t do anything to keep South Carolina from winning the NC State and Missouri’s games, but I don’t think you would necessarily say he won them either.
Through the first two games South Carolina had won from explosive plays by Deebo Samuel and some opportunistic turnovers forced by the defense. Bentley was not forced to throw South Carolina back into a game because the Gamecocks never trailed against NC State and were single-handedly bailed out by Samuel against Missouri.
I didn’t think Kentucky was going to be the game where Bentley was going to have to lead a comeback, but low and behold the Wildcat curse continued Saturday and Bentley had his back against the wall for the first time all season.
If you had studied the first two games, the numbers would have suggested this would have been no problem for Bentley. In standard downs, Bentley was 20-33 (60.1%) for 260 yards (7.9 YPA) with one touchdown and no interceptions. In passing downs he was 15-24 (62.5%) for 142 yards (5.9 YPA) with three touchdowns and one interception.
(For a refresher, standard downs are 1&10 and fewer, 2nd&6 and fewer, 3rd&4 and fewer. Passing downs are 1&11 and more, 2&7 and more, 3rd&5 and more.)
When you compare the passer rating between the two (145.1 in passing downs, 136.78 in standard downs) the ratings indicate Bentley has been better in passing downs than in standard downs. That’s a sign of a great quarterback — the ability to throw your team out of bad situations.
However against Kentucky when it came to passing down situations, Bentley fell flat. It was an uncharacteristic regression from what South Carolina fans have come to expect from Bentley. Against Kentucky, Bentley was 5-10 (50%) for 41 yards (4.3 YPA) with a touchdown and two interceptions to total a QB rating of 79.12.
This begs the question: what happened?
It’s not as if Kentucky possess an overwhelming defense, or at least they didn’t show it through their first two games against Southern Mississippi and Eastern Kentucky. It’s not as if South Carolina did an awful job of protecting Bentley either — it could have been better but it certainly wasn’t the cause of Bentley’s ills.
Well we turned to the film to study these passing down plays and tried to diagnose what the problem was. Two things were very apparent:
- Bentley was rushing his throws in clean pockets
- Bentley simply made some bad reads and bad throws
For whatever reason, Bentley just had a bad game, specifically in situations where he couldn’t afford to be bad. Let’s address the quick trigger on Bentley — if a quarterback has a clean pocket he should wait at least three seconds to allow routes to develop before making his throw.
Allowing routes to develop and being patient is a key aspect of playing quarterback. College QB’s are normally throwing to where a receiver is supposed to be at the end of his route, so if you don’t let a route develop you’ll be throwing to an empty space.
When Bentley had a clean pocket in passing down situations against Kentucky, he averaged 2.71 seconds between snap and release of the ball. That is way too fast if have time to throw, which Bentley most certainly did.
Let’s look at an example of this early in the game. It’s a 3rd-&-12 situation from the Kentucky 41 yard line.
Bentley takes exactly 2.44 seconds to get rid of this ball and for no apparent reason. There is no pressure on Bentley at any point during this play. Here’s the pocket at the time of Bentley releasing the ball.
That’s as good of a pocket as you can ask for at any level of football. Bentley has a couple more seconds to play with so he could scan the field and possibly find a wide open Bryan Edwards who had found a soft spot in the Kentucky zone right at the first down marker.
Try to ignore the blurry players, but that’s Edwards sitting by himself in the top left-hand corner of the picture. If Edwards catches that ball he’s picking up the first down. Instead Rico Dowdle is dropped after a seven yard gain and it leads to a missed field goal. This was a big turning point early on because it killed momentum after a Skai Moore interception.
Why Bentley felt the need to rush this throw is still unclear, but it’s a clear mistake regardless. Let’s look at another example on South Carolina third drive of the game, this play is 2nd-&-15 from the Kentucky 43 yard line.
Bentley takes a total of 1.76 seconds to throw this ball. Why does Bentley rush this throw? Look at the pocket he’s in at the time of his release:
There’s not a defender within three yards of Bentley here. Hell, his check down back Ty’son Williams hasn’t even settled into his spot in the middle of the field yet. In the gif it looks like Bentley is reading Shi Smith (13) but looks him off once he realizes there’s a safety over the top.
He then immediately checks down to Bryan Edwards, who isn’t even open here. The corner is right on his tail and there’s a linebacker dropping into a zone right in Edwards’ path. The result is an incompletion when Edwards to crushed between the two defenders.
If Smith is covered over the top and Edwards isn’t open either, then Williams was the proper read here. Now this leads to 3rd-&-15, which then ends in this play:
Bentley, once again, bails from a clean pocket. Look at this pocket and tell me where the pressure is:
From the snap to this moment right here 3.12 seconds have passed. This is where Bentley needs to throw to one of the three (!!) open receivers he has on the field. Shi Smith is open at the 40, Williams is open in the flat at the bottom of the picture and then Edwards has sat in the soft spot of the zone in the top left hand corner.
He’s even waving his arms up to signal he’s open. But instead of throwing, Bentley inexplicably bails from the pocket and throws a prayer into double coverage which leads to an interception off a deflection. Keep in mind that drive came off the heels of South Carolina creating their second straight turnover, so this was another huge momentum killing play.
Bentley single-handedly killed both of these drives following turnovers. South Carolina should have gone up 21-0 in the first quarter but instead are up only 6-0. These were huge turning points in the game and might have been the reason South Carolina lost steam early on.
Shake it off as just a bad game from an otherwise good quarterback, but Bentley can’t afford another game like that in the coming weeks with Texas A&M and Arkansas on the horizon.