I’m really, really happy for Michael Scarnecchia. He’s been with this program for five years, finally got his shot, and led the Gamecocks to a potentially season-saving win with an unexpected and admirable performance. It’s legitimately great to know South Carolina has a capable backup quarterback.
But starting Jake Bentley against Texas A&M on Saturday — if he’s healthy and able to go — is the right move.
Coach Will Muschamp was careful to be diplomatic about the two quarterbacks during his press conference yesterday, but he highlighted experience as the biggest difference between them. While I agree, I think another key distinction is composure. Scarnecchia was remarkably poised against Missouri, especially in the rain and especially when asked to lead the offense on a game-winning drive with just a minute and change left. Since Bentley has long had issues with getting too rattled or too hyped up, it’s easy to see why fans have been so impressed by Scarnecchia’s calm and steady approach.
As Muschamp pointed out, though, we have a very small sample size to evaluate Scarnecchia with versus years of tape on Bentley. Missouri is not exactly a defensive juggernaut, either, and is particularly vulnerable in the passing game. While Scarnecchia made some great decisions and throws, is there really a reason to believe Bentley couldn’t have similarly taken advantage of the Tigers? We can’t know for certain, but it seems like a fair assumption based on Bentley’s body of work to this point.
Speaking of, it’s undeniable that Bentley has had a rough start to this season. He has six interceptions through four games, but it’s worth noting that he’s also played against two of the toughest defenses the Gamecocks will face in Georgia and Kentucky. And while Scarnecchia didn’t turn the ball over against Missouri, there were at least two would-be picks that went through the hands of Tigers defenders. Sometimes you get those lucky breaks, so I don’t bring that up to diminish Scarnecchia’s performance — he just may not be as careful with the ball as the box score indicates.
On a similar note, we don’t know how limited the offense was with Scarnecchia at the reins. The Gamecocks were calling predictable run plays on first and second down for large portions of the game, and while Muschamp insisted it was an effort to establish the line of scrimmage, it could have also been part of the plan to steady Scarnecchia. While the Gamecocks’ offense is certainly capable of running in fits and starts no matter who’s in at quarterback, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume the playbook is more open with an experienced Bentley at the helm.
Whether you agree with Bentley starting, Scarnecchia is no doubt a factor regardless. The coaching staff now knows they have another option to turn to if things get out of hand (which Muschamp even implied, saying he would “make decisions to win the game”). Perhaps even more importantly, for the first time since his rapid rise to starter as a true freshman, Bentley now has competition. Iron sharpens iron, as they say, and perhaps this will bring out the best in him. Whether he gets more snaps or whether he’s pushing Bentley to improve, Scarnecchia is helping the Gamecocks.