We are all stuck inside, so let’s take a look at Utah’s 2020 quarterback battle. While Kyle Whittingham acknowledged it is a three way battle between former South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley, former Texas Longhorns quarterback Cam Rising, and Drew Lisk, the quarterback to replace Tyler Huntley will likely be either Bentley or Rising, so we will focus on those two.
The Utah Utes landed the former South Carolina graduate transfer quarterback over a host of other schools, a four-star recruit when he came out of high school. Bentley redshirted last year at South Carolina after suffering an injury early in the season. Bentley showed some massive upside as a junior. Bentley ranked just outside the top 20 in 2018 in passing yards per game with 264.3 yards per game (which was only 0.1 yards per game less than Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner up Tua Tagovailoa), which also put him third in the SEC. He finished 35th in the nation with a 146.25 passer rating. Bentley set a school record with 510 passing yards against rival and eventual national champion Clemson Tigers on the road. Bentley had more yards, touchdowns, and passer rating than any other quarterback who faced Clemson in 2018.
Let’s first discuss Bentley’s upside. He can make some WOW throws (watch his highlight reel below). He can rocket the ball down the field with serious velocity and fit the ball in some tight windows. He is 6’4”, 220 pounds, which is prototypical size for a college or NFL quarterback. Prior to his knee injury that ended his 2019 season in week one, he had great mobility. He is not a dual threat quarterback, but he showed plenty of ability to extend plays, which is what Utah likes to see from their quarterbacks. He has the potential to be a very good quarterback if he improves the weaknesses in his game, all of which are coachable.
For all of his upside, there is a reason he came back to South Carolina in 2019 for his senior season instead of leaving early for the NFL Draft, he chose to come back to school because there are some flaws with his game. The biggest issue is probably his accuracy. He had three games in 2018 where he completed under 50% of his passes. His accuracy issues like stem from poor footwork. While he has quick feet, he does not always plant his feet right to throw, which leads to inconsistent accuracy and the ball sailing on him. He also could improve on his field vision and reading a defense.
In a lot of ways, Bentley reminds me of the former Washington Huskies quarterback Jacob Eason. Both have all of the physical tools and arm talent you could ask for but struggled with accuracy/touch and reading a defense. Bentley is kind of the opposite of Huntley. Huntley had much better touch and accuracy than Bentley but does not have the same arm talent or size as him.
Here are some highlights from his junior season in 2018. As you might expect, there are a lot of highlights from his game against Clemson. Clemson was only rushing three or four with that talented defensive line on Bentley, so he was throwing into seven or eight defenders in coverage and still managed to pick that talented secondary apart. When Bentley is on, like he was against Clemson, he can be a very good quarterback.
With Bentley, we have three years of college film to judge him on. Rising, also a former four-star recruit, on the other hand has not played a down of college ball, so he is a bit more of a wild card. All we can go on from Rising is high school film and some limited practice reps while he sat last year at Utah. Despite no college game experience, Rising does have a huge leg up on Bentley in familiarity with the Utah offense. He spent last year running the scout team and in the press box with Andy Ludwig on game days.
When he announced his intention to transfer from Texas, word is Tom Herman and the rest of the coaching staff were sad to see him leave, viewing him as a quarterback with NFL potential.
Without seeing him play in live game action, it is hard to know how much progress he has made since high school. He showed a lot of athleticism in high school and a big arm. He had a bit of a funky throwing motion and tended to throw off his back foot too much. It seems like while redshirting at Texas and at Utah last year, he began to correct some of those things.
He is not quite as tall as Bentley, but they are definitely similar. Both are big quarterbacks with strong arms who could improve a few aspects of their games, namely footwork, to become very successful quarterbacks. Both have NFL potential.
Who will start?
It is really hard to know who the starter will be without seeing much of either quarterback in the Utah offense with spring football cut so short due to COVID-19. Rising has the advantage of an extra year in Utah’s system while Bentley has more experience in college. Because Utah’s offense under Andy Ludwig is predicated on efficiency, which Huntley demonstrated so well last year, each quarterback has some things to work on to excel in the offense. While Utah’s offense loses Zack Moss, Darrin Paulo, and Demari Simpkins (in addition to Huntley obviously), most of the key pieces are back in 2020. The offensive line returns four starters and most of the key receivers are back as well. Utah has multiple deep threats in wide receivers Solomon Enis (who can win the 50-50 balls) and Jaylen Dixon (who is a burner) and tight end Brant Kuithe (a matchup nightmare). Both quarterbacks have big arms and should be able to allow all of the playmaking pass catchers to flourish. I think the quarterback who wins the job is the one who will be more consistent. It is Bentley’s last shot to impress NFL scouts, while Rising could begin a very successful career on the hill. While I reserve the right to change this, I think I would give Bentley a slight edge because of his college experience. I also think he will make tremendous progress with Ludwig on his footwork and reading a defense (areas where Ludwig helped Huntley). Regardless of who starts, it is great to have two talented quarterbacks to push each other. Whoever wins the job is getting handed the keys to a sports car offense, which will need to score points to help out a very young defense that will have to replace six players taken in the 2020 NFL Draft in addition to several other players who signed undrafted free agent contracts.