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Jake Bentley has the reins of Utah football’s offense, even if it comes a little later than anticipated

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Jake Bentley (8) runs the ball as the Utah Utes host the USC Trojans, NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.

Jake Bentley’s time at the University of South Carolina essentially came to an end on Aug. 31, 2019.

Late in the Gamecocks’ season-opener vs. North Carolina, Bentley suffered a lisfranc injury in his left foot. It required surgery, he was done for the season. Bentley later transferred to the University of Utah, arriving in time for the spring semester in January.

Early in spring practice, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the final three-quarters of it, and during a FaceTime call with local reporters in May, Bentley sounded like a guy with something to prove. He knew the last images of his South Carolina career were of him limping off the field, so he wanted to change the narrative.

As a guy with a chip on his shoulder, of course Bentley knew how many days it was since he last played in a college football game. To be exact, it was 448 days between the North Carolina game and last Saturday, when Bentley came on in relief of Utes starter Cameron Rising early in the second quarter of a 33-17 loss to USC.

Bentley lost the fall camp quarterback competition to Rising, but Rising is now out for the season. There was a bit of a detour to get to now, but Utah’s offense belongs to Bentley as the Utes travel to Washington for a Saturday primetime, network broadcast against the Huskies (5:30 p.m., ABC).

In relief of Rising, Bentley admittedly was up and down, finishing 16-for-28 for 171 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

“It was definitely a different experience for me, for sure, but I prepared, mentally, the best I could as the starter and tried to be ready when my name was called,” Bentley told ESPN700 Tuesday evening, about an hour before the Washington matchup was announced in the wake of Utah-Arizona State getting canceled. “I thought I did some good things, but definitely some things I needed to clean up, for sure.”

Preparing as if he would be the starter is all well and good, but it was asking a lot of Bentley to come in cold off the bench, against a USC defense that was flying all over the place early against the Utes, let alone the fact the Trojans’ defensive front was clearly getting the better of Utah’s mostly-young offensive line.

Utah got back to work on Monday. By that point, Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham knew Rising wasn’t going to be available, which means Bentley was able to take all the first-team reps this week. That will presumably make a huge difference as he steps back into the starting role most everyone thought he would begin the season in.

“I think it makes a huge difference physically,” Bentley said. “The mental preparation isn’t going to change that much, I’ll still do the same film work. This week will obviously be a little harder with the opponent situation, but physically, it will be a huge difference, just getting comfortable with the routes and instead of getting it maybe one time, getting it three or four times and just really feeling comfortable and being ready to go from the first whistle.”

A major subplot to this whole thing is the plight of Rising. A University of Texas transfer, Rising sat out the 2019 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but embraced his role as the scout team quarterback, while spending game days in the box with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.

With 33 games as an SEC starter under his belt, Bentley arrived and the presumption was that he would eventually win the job. For a long while, that appeared likely, but Rising came on late in fall camp to win the job, making Bentley, who earlier in camp was voted as a captain, the backup.

Things have now flipped. Bentley is the starter, while Rising, the victim of circumstances last season as he sat, and now the victim of rotten injury luck, is left to sit, observe, learn, and preferably remain engaged.

At least part of the responsibility of having Rising remain engaged falls on Bentley, not only as a captain, but as the owner of the quarterback room.

“He’s been in meetings the past couple days, still locked in, still trying to help,” Bentley said. “Cam’s always a positive guy, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Cam get down on himself or get down about much of anything.

“I just told him to keep his head up and he knows what I’ve been through, I didn’t want to force anything on him, but I just told him I’m here for him. I think the most important thing for him is to stay in it mentally, and I think that’s the hardest thing, is trying to find that next goal.”

How Rising’s injury affects Utah’s long-term quarterback situation is a question mark. For starters, Whittingham said earlier this week that the injury is so severe, that his availability for spring practice is in doubt.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic tossing this football season into disarray, the NCAA has frozen the eligibility clock for football players. That means Bentley, who would be in his final year of eligibility as a graduate transfer, could opt to return in 2021, but that remains to be seen.

The Utah quarterback room will also add four-star freshman Peter Costelli, the cornerstone of Whittingham’s latest recruiting class.

UTAH at WASHINGTON

At Husky Stadium, Seattle


Kickoff » Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MT

TV » ABC (Beth Mowins, play-by-play; Kirk Morrison, analyst; Stormy Buonantony, sideline)

Radio » ESPN700 AM, Sirius Ch. 380

Records » Utah 1-0; Washington 2-0

Series » Washington leads, 12-2


About Utah » The Utes were the last Power Five football program to play a game, opening with a 33-17 home loss to then-No. 20 USC at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Jake Bentley was 16-for-28 for 171 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in relief of Cam Rising, who exited with a shoulder injury early in the second quarter … Utah’s only two wins vs. Washington have come at Husky Stadium, including last season’s 33-28 come-from-behind win. In that one, Jaylon Johnson’s 39-yard pick-six stemmed the tide, and the Utes added fourth-quarter touchdown runs from Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss to seal the win … The Utes have held six consecutive Pac-12 opponents under 100 yards rushing after holding USC to just 93 … Four of the last five Utah-Washington games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The one outlier was a 21-7 Huskies win early in the 2018 season at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

About Washington » The Huskies are coming off a 44-27 win over Arizona in which the defense pitched a shutout for three-plus quarters, while the rushing offense put up 233 yards and three touchdowns on 45 carries … At 2-0, Washington has emerged as the primary challenger to Oregon in the Pac-12 North. If both remain healthy and unbeaten, a Dec. 12 meeting in Eugene would essentially be the de facto Pac-12 North title game, with the winner advancing to the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 18 … The Huskies have gone 73 straight games without allowing an opponent to score more than 35 points, the longest such streak in the nation … Washington came to play Utah this weekend after the annual Apple Cup matchup at Washington State was canceled due to the Cougars being unable to make the 53-player threshold to play the game, a Pac-12 mandate.

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