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Why Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has ‘full confidence’ in new starting quarterback Jake Bentley

Clearly, Bentley earned the respect of his teammates long before he became the starter. In mid-October, they named the former South Carolina starter as one of the Utes’ four captains for the season

Utah Utes quarterback Jake Bentley (8) evades the tackle from USC Trojans cornerback Olaijah Griffin (2) at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.
Utah Utes quarterback Jake Bentley evades the tackle from USC Trojans cornerback Olaijah Griffin (2) at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. With Cam Rising’s injury, Bentley is the new starting QB for the Utes, who play at Washington on Saturday night.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Utah’s new starting quarterback, senior grad transfer Jake Bentley, is new to the program and new to the Pac-12, but he’s hardly new to college football.

Before arriving in Salt Lake City as a grad transfer last winter, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound sophomore from Lexington, South Carolina, started 33 games and became one of the most prolific passers in the history of South Carolina football.

After Cam Rising’s season-ending injury last week against USC, Bentley will get his first career start for the Utes Saturday (5:30 p.m., MST, ABC) at Washington.

Coach Kyle Whittingham likes the fact he can turn to such an experienced quarterback.

“He’s got 30-plus SEC starts under his belt. He performed very well in the SEC. It’s not like he’s an unknown commodity,” he said. “We’ll build the offense around Jake now and his skillset and away we go. We feel very fortunate that he’s with us and we expect him to get the job done for us.”

Certainly, going from the Southeastern Conference to the Pac-12 has been a big change for Bentley, but it’s been a positive one.

Jake Bentley, shown here playing against Akron in 2018, started 33 games for South Carolina before choosing to play his senior season for the Utes. That SEC experience is why Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is confident he’ll be up to the task when the Utes face Washington in Seattle on Saturday night.
AP Photo/Sean Rayford

During his time with the Gamecocks, he faced SEC opponent Vanderbilt, where Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was coaching before returning to the Utes.

“It’s a little different but that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come here with coach Ludwig,” Bentley said last spring, “knowing how prolific his offenses have been in the past and just preparation for the next level.”

Bentley ended up passing for 7,527 yards and 57 touchdowns during his career at South Carolina. He helped lead the Gamecocks to a nine-win season in 2017. In 2018, Bentley set program records with 510 passing yards and five touchdowns in a loss to Clemson in 2018.

Bentley’s father, Bobby, is the tight ends coach for the Gamecocks.

Jake Bentley suffered a broken foot on the final snap of the 2019 season opener against North Carolina. Bentley was sidelined for the remainder of the campaign and replaced by freshman Ryan Hilinski.

South Carolina’s injured quarterback Jake Bentley heads to the locker room at the end of the Florida game Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. Bentley suffered a broken foot on the final snap of the 2019 season opener against North Carolina.
AP Photo/Mic Smith

After the 2019 campaign, Jake Bentley decided to embark on a fresh start by transferring to Utah.

“I wanted something different. I’ve been in the southeast my whole life, so I wanted to come and experience a different culture, a different environment,” Bentley said. “I told coach Whittingham when I came here, I wanted to grow as a football player and I really think that Utah is the best place for it.”

During the offseason, Bentley battled Rising, a Texas transfer, and senior Drew Lisk, for the starting job. Ultimately, Rising won that battle but his time as Utah’s starter this season was short-lived, suffering a shoulder injury after only a few drives in last week’s opener.

Bentley was pressed into action early in the second quarter. He ended up completing 16 of 28 passes for 171 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also had a big 33-yard run at the end of the first half that set up Utah’s only offensive touchdown of the night.

It wasn’t easy coming off the bench in the middle of the game but Bentley didn’t blame the circumstances.

“Not an excuse at all,” he said. “I was fully prepared before the game to go out there and execute.”

Clearly, Bentley earned the respect of his teammates long before he became the starter. In mid-October, they named him one of the Utes’ four captains for the season, along with offensive lineman Orlando Umana, linebacker Devin Lloyd and defensive end Mika Tafua.

“It’s a rarity for a guy to be in the program that short a period of time and be elected a team captain without knowing if he’s even a starter,” Whittingham said at the time. “That speaks to the level of respect our team has for Jake. He’s a mature guy that handles himself exactly like you want a quarterback to handle himself as far as just his demeanor and how he handles his business.”

This week, Bentley has been getting the majority of the reps in practice in preparation for Saturday’s game. Though Rising is out, Whittingham is glad to have quarterback depth.

“We have that luxury to have two quarterbacks we feel really good about. Actually we have three, with Drew Lisk,” he said. “We don’t want to discount Drew and what he brings to the program. He’s a quality player as well. It didn’t take long for us to get to the No. 2 guy and that’s where we’re at. We have full confidence in Jake moving forward. It will be a big benefit to him taking all of the reps with the ones this week. He should be more comfortable and settled in this week.”

Utah wide receiver Bryan Thompson said the switch from Rising to Bentley was not a difficult one.

“Not at all. Coming into the season, we wanted to get chemistry with both guys because there’s no telling what could happen,” he said. “We’re prepared for anybody to be at quarterback. We trust either one of them.”

Now, Bentley will rely on his leadership, and experience, to lead the Utes on the field.