HOOVER, Ala. — Jake Bentley and Will Muschamp have been a winning combination for South Carolina, just not against Texas A&M.
Bentley is the Southeastern Conference’s most experienced quarterback, going 19-13, including a 10-7 league record. He has helped Muschamp go 22-17, the best record by a South Carolina football coach after three seasons in school history, one victory better than Steve Spurrier and five more than Lou Holtz. And that’s with the Aggies beating Muschamp three times.
Muschamp started out 2-4 at South Carolina, which included a 24-13 loss to the Aggies. Two weeks later, he replaced senior Perry Orth with freshman Bentley, who led the Gamecocks to a bowl game.
“There’s no question in my opinion his spark helped us get to those highs,” Muschamp said Wednesday at the SEC Media Days. “I really appreciate Jake and his contributions at South Carolina. I’m looking forward to his senior year.”
South Carolina returns 14 starters led by Bentley, who has thrown for 7,385 yards by completing 62.8 percent of his passes with 54 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.
“We have our best team coming back in South Carolina since I have been there,” Muschamp said.
South Carolina will try to help Bentley get his first victories over Clemson, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas A&M, which have combined to hand him nine of his 13 losses. Both of his losses to A&M were by a touchdown.
Last year, A&M held on for a 26-23 victory. South Carolina had five punts and two turnovers on its first seven possessions as A&M built a 16-0 lead. Bentley threw three touchdowns to make it close.
“It was just a little bit too late,” Bentley said. “I had a red-zone turnover that game, that can’t happen. I just gotta be better in the little things.”
Two years ago, A&M rallied from a 10-point, third-quarter deficit for a 24-17 victory. Bentley threw for 256 yards on 17 of 30 with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but he was sacked seven times and lost a fumble.
“We had a couple sacks late,” Bentley said. “I think I missed a few protection calls on that, I remember that [happened] real late. [Quarterback] Kellen [Mond] made a couple big plays down the stretch. We just gotta execute better late in the game.”
The Kyle Field crowd of 96,430, which at the time was the largest Bentley had played before, played a part in A&M’s comeback.
“The crowd got back in it and made it hard to communicate,” Bentley said.
He feels much better prepared for the Kyle Field rematch Nov. 16.
“It’s just one of those things where it was my sophomore year,” Bentley said. “And it was, ‘Wow, this is an awesome stadium.’ I’m not saying it’s not going to be awesome again, I just think you’re more prepared for what the atmosphere is going to be like and more mature.”
Bentley since the first game at Kyle has been to Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.