College Sports

Michael Scarnecchia’s message for Jake Bentley as USC’s season moves on without him

After sharing the same meeting room with him for three years, Michael Scarnecchia was truly looking forward to Jake Bentley closing out his South Carolina career with a bang.

“I was really excited to see what was going to happen with Jake,” Scarnecchia said. “I was excited to see how they were going to open up the offense.”

All of that simmered one week in as the Gamecocks suffered a disappointing loss to North Carolina and Bentley was lost for the season with a foot injury.

Scarnecchia, who relieved an injured Bentley last October and led the Gamecocks to a win over Missouri, has stayed in touch with Bentley since departing the football program for USC law school. Recent conversations between the two have changed accordingly with the times.

Scarnecchia was Bentley’s backup. Now he’s providing relief in a different way.

“Lately, I’ve just texted him some motivational stuff about his mental toughness and what he means to South Carolina,” Scarnecchia told The State. “‘You’ve overcome this before, so don’t allow this injury to put you down.’ And I said something like, ‘You’re going to be the backbone of this team regardless if you’re playing or not, so make sure your leadership is being shown in the locker room.’”

Someone in appropriate command of the South Carolina QB room is something Scarnecchia appreciated during his time with the Gamecocks. He said he admired Dylan Thompson and Perry Orth in that role and then took it on for himself as a senior.

“You need that one senior, that one leader in the group,” Scarnecchia said. “Because if you don’t have that one person doing that, then the QB room can almost become hostile because it is a competition and you don’t have someone establishing to the other guys like, ‘Hey, just because we’re competing on the field for that one position doesn’t mean we’re going to allow that to affect our friendships.’”

Bentley was a three-year starter entering 2019, making the freshman battle for No. 2 — Ryan Hilinski vs. Dakeron Joyner — as the only true QB competition of the Carolina preseason. Hilinski, a four-star prospect from California, won that and quickly moved up to No. 1 after Bentley went down.

He’s now the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week after tossing for 324 yards and two touchdowns in the 47-23 loss to No. 2 Alabama.

“It seems like there’s new excitement,” Scarnecchia said. “When there’s change, there always seems to be new excitement, initially at least. So I think with Ryan coming in, they probably simplified the game-plan. And he did well. He played well. He made good decisions. He didn’t over-think anything. And I’m excited for the rest of the season with these guys.”

Hilinski’s first career road start comes Saturday at Missouri.

“Ryan and I,” Scarnecchia said, “we’ve never really like hung out. We’ve had lunch once or twice. But we talk a good amount. But the biggest thing I would tell him is to stay composed, treat every week like it’s Alabama, pretty much, because if you’re going to play to the level of opponent, then that’s when upsets happen. That’s when we’re gonna get beat by a team we shouldn’t get beat by. And then if things aren’t going our way, especially as a freshman QB, you can’t show that on your face. You can’t let the other team know, let your team know that you’re upset about it. You gotta be level-headed the whole season, no matter what comes your way.

“So that’s going to be the big thing for Ryan, through the highs and lows of the season, how is he going to respond to all of that?”

NEXT

Who: South Carolina at Missouri

When: 4 p.m., Saturday

Where: Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri

TV: SEC Network Alternate

Line: Missouri by 9.5

Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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