Change could be coming to South Carolina’s last-place FBS offense.
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp vowed after the 28-14 loss to Georgia on Oct. 9 that all positions were open and everything would be re-evaluated. With South Carolina (2-4) looking for a second-half run starting Saturday against Massachusetts (1-6), Muschamp may consider starting true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley for the first time.
“I know, but I can’t tell you,” said South Carolina defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth, with a smile.
The truth is, no one’s sure because Muschamp’s not saying — and danced around the subject once more Tuesday.
“Who says we’re making a change? We’ll see Saturday,” Muschamp said.
Bentley had joined the season’s two previous starters in senior Perry Orth and freshman Brandon McIlwain in sharing first-team reps during preparations for the Minutemen.
If Bentley plays, he’d be the second freshman to open a game at quarterback this season after Brandon McIlwain, who enrolled in January, went through spring drills and started three games. McIlwain has struggled at times in the passing game, completing just over half of his throws as the Gamecocks have sunk to last among 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 14 points a game.
Orth, who has made 11 starts the past two seasons, has been the better passer this fall, but not enough to move South Carolina, 126th nationally in total offense.
Freshman tailback A.J. Turner said he’s not sure what will happen Saturday.
“I’m just really putting my faith in the coaches that they’re going to put us in the best position, put the best players out there to win,” he said. “I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing in practice. Who’s ever in, they’re in and I just run with it.”
Bentley, who turns 19 next month, is the son of South Carolina running backs coach Bobby Bentley and younger brother of Chas Dodd, a South Carolina graduate assistant who was Rutgers starting quarterback for a time.
Bentley, at 6-foot-3 and 223 pounds, is the biggest of the three QB contenders. He threw for 2,834 yards, 28 TDs and eight interceptions as a junior last season at Opelika High School in Alabama. He had enough credits to complete his degree to give up his senior season and move up to college.
Bentley had scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Louisville and Nebraska among others and left high school a season early to enroll at South Carolina this past summer and compete for the starting job.
The late start and the emergence of McIlwain, a centerpiece of last year’s recruiting class, seemed to have Bentley ticketed for a year on the sidelines as a redshirt. South Carolina’s woeful offensive play may have changed that plan.
Bentley was well behind Orth and McIlwain coming out of spring, Muschamp said.
“We have a good plan heading into Saturday,” the coach said. “Obviously, we are not going to disclose that until Saturday, but leaving training camp, those guys were ahead of him. As we have continued to work and meet and practice and the reps continue to add up, we have tried to evaluate the situation on what is best for our football team. We are not going to make a change for sake of making a change.”
South Carolina left guard Zack Bailey said the offense has worked hard to improve, no matter the quarterback.
“We’ve practiced with all three of them throughout the entire year,” Bailey said. “There’s no difference between any of them.”
Muschamp was asked if his offense had difficulty preparing with questions swirling about their quarterback.
His answer was succinct: “We don’t have a lot of questions in the building right now.”