CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jake Bentley threw for 510 yards and five touchdowns against No. 2-ranked Clemson last month, so don't expect the South Carolina quarterback to be afraid of anyone — even though his best wide receiver won't play Saturday against Virginia in the Belk Bowl.
Bentley said South Carolina's offense has a "never scared mentality."
There's plenty of reason for confidence with Bentley throwing 16 touchdown passes in his last five games and being on the verge of eclipsing 3,000 yards passing.
"In the second half of the season, there seems to be confidence growing week in and week out with them," Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "Bentley is coming into the game is playing his best football."
But Bentley will be tested.
The Virginia defense ranks 14th in the nation against the pass and is allowing less than 22 points per game. And, he will be without his top wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who is sitting out to begin preparations for the NFL draft rather than risk injury. Samuel had 62 catches for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Bentley said the team will miss Samuel's experience but expects wide receivers Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith to take on bigger roles against a Cavaliers defense that allows just 211.9 yards per game through the air.
"I think the guys have responded really well not having him out there at practice," Bentley said.
Mendenhall said no matter how you slice it, Samuel's loss will have an impact on the game.
"Anytime you have a dynamic playmaker that is not playing, that makes a difference," Mendenhall said. "So then it goes right to who and how will they use their other players. Fortunately for them, they have other good skill players. I think he will be missed but I don't think it will make or break their offensive performance."
Some other things to watch when South Carolina-Virginia meet in the Belk Bowl on Saturday:
PERKINS MODELS NEWTON
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins is a multi-threat quarterback, much like Cam Newton of the NFL's Carolina Panthers. On Saturday, Perkins will play in Newton's home stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
But that isn't where the comparisons end.
Like Newton, Perkins started out at a top level school before leaving Arizona State to play junior college ball at Arizona Western Community College and then moving to Virginia. Newton took a similar path, starting at Florida before transferring to Blinn College and then on to Auburn. Both QBs led their junior college teams to the national championship game, with Newton winning and Perkins falling just short.
"I love watching Cam Newton's game," said Perkins. "He's bigger than me, but his game is something I idolize and try to (emulate) on the field."
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said his biggest concern is stopping Virginia's run game, which is led by Jordan Ellis and Perkins. Muschamp is concerned with the variety of run concepts the Cavaliers will throw at you on game day.
"They present a lot of issues and they outnumber you because of the quarterback and he creates and extra gap," Muschamp said. "They have a different package each week and a lot of personnel groups. We will have to make adjustments on defense, so that's a huge concern."
Mendenhall was asked repeatedly at media day on Friday about last year's 49-7 loss to Navy in the Military Bowl in what was Virginia's first bowl appearance in six seasons. It's clearly something he doesn't want to rehash.
"That was buried the minute we came back and got to work in January," Mendenhall said. "The relevance of that has been gone for quite a long time."
ON THE RETURN
The X factor on Saturday could be Virginia returner Joe Reed, who has been do-it-all for the Cavaliers over the last three weeks with eight catches for 217 yards and five touchdowns and 10 kickoff returns for 343 yards and one score.
South Carolina's A.J. Turner could see some action at running back and cornerback for the Gamecocks. Turner has run for 1,322 yards and eight scores during his career at South Carolina, but played some cornerback in a 28-3 win against Akron on Dec. 1 with injuries mounting in the Gamecocks secondary.
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