I can't believe I'm saying this, but Saturday showed why Stetson Bennett IV has to be Georgia's QB1
I was that guy.
You know. I was that guy who said “we’re not really doing the Stetson Bennett IV thing again, are we?” I said it when Kirby Smart put Bennett in as UGA’s starter instead of Carson Beck even though it appeared that the redshirt freshman came out of spring came as the backup to JT Daniels.
So when Daniels spent the first half of the season dealing with an oblique injury and most recently a lat injury, I was still that guy. I said “Daniels is the guy when he comes back” because of what he showed at the end of 2020.
Against No. 11 Kentucky on Saturday, I was still that guy when I watched the UGA offense appear somewhat limited in a 14-point first half. I assumed that this column was going to be the “it’s time to let Bennett find a spot on the bench.”
Well, now I’m that other guy. I’m the “Bennett needs to be QB1” guy.
I know. I’m stunned, too.
Sometime when UGA put the game on ice against a solid Kentucky defense, it hit me. Or rather, it hit Brock Bowers.
Georgia led 24-7 early in the fourth quarter on the Kentucky 20-yard line. Bennett looked for Bowers on the right side. The problem? Bowers really wasn’t looking for the ball. That is, until it was about 6 yards away. But Bennett put it right on the money for Bowers, who somehow was able to locate the ball above his head without breaking stride.
Six points. Just like that.
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) October 16, 2021
And just like that, you’re reminded that Bowers and this unexpected group of UGA pass-catchers have a different sort of chemistry with Bennett. It’s been evident all year. As great as UGA’s all-world defense is, the Dawgs aren’t the owners of the most lopsided scoring advantage in FBS at the midway point of the season if not for Bennett’s brilliance.
And really, that’s what he’s been. He was brilliant in the winning effort at Auburn, and against another Top 25 team, Bennett showed why he’s not the same guy who wasn’t trusted to throw the ball in a 14-3 snooze fest at Kentucky last year.
Bennett can now run Todd Monken’s offense. That’s the difference between 2020 and 2021. We’re no longer seeing a limited UGA offense. Maybe Bennett doesn’t quite have the arm talent or the ability to make plays against the blitz like Daniels does, but really, what more could you want?
This Georgia team doesn’t need someone to hit 45 points. Kirby Smart’s defense might not allow 45 points the rest of the season. Saturday was the first time it allowed 2 touchdowns in a game, and that happened after Mark Stoops called a timeout with 7 seconds left so that he could let his offense take 1 last shot at the end zone (it worked). For gambling purposes, that mattered (it mattered if you had Georgia -21.5). For everything else, it didn’t.
The Mailman had already delivered. Again.
Ho hum. Just another day with 12.5 yards per attempt. By the way, he at least 10 yards per attempt in 4 of his 5 starts in 2021. A week after his play-action success torched Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Bennett completed 70% of his passes and he threw 3 touchdowns, 2 of which were to Bowers.
His lone mistake was when Josh Paschal got his arm as it was going back to throw, and it was a fumble … though Kentucky didn’t even realize it was a live ball. Smart said that was impacting Bennett. If it did, it certainly didn’t in the second half. Whether it was Bowers, John Fitzpatrick or Darnell Washington, Bennett was effective finding his weapons in space.
Bennett has now led UGA to 3 consecutive 3-score wins against ranked foes. In those games, he:
- A) Completed 67% of his passes
- B) Averaged 10.6 yards per attempt
- C) Took a total of 2 sacks
- D) Had 0 turnovers
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
Again, I ask. What more could you want from your signal-caller?
It’s funny because if you had asked me that question a few weeks ago, I would’ve said “arm strength” or “the ability to stretch the field.” I actually scoffed at David Pollack’s comments that UGA was Bennett’s team and that recruiting rankings were the only thing separating him from Daniels. Pollack said that he’s on The Mailman train.
Gosh, I’m stunned to say that I agree.
But that’s pretty fitting given Bennett’s path to this whole deal. Everybody and their mother knows that Bennett came from Jones Community College (Miss.) and that last year, he took UGA as far as he possibly could. It was watching Bennett side-by-side with Kyle Trask when it became abundantly clear that he wasn’t gonna be the guy. Georgia fans soon wondered why Bennett was given so much leeway while Daniels was cleared to play.
Now, Bennett is showing that he needs to be the guy as Daniels continues to work his way back from a lat injury.
Ironic, to say the least.
It’d be putting it lightly to say that Bennett’s career has done a 180. It’s in about its third different 180.
So what does that mean? Can Bennett win a national title? Look at the last 5 national championship winning quarterbacks and you’d say that he sticks out like a blue shirt at an Athens tailgate:
- 2016: Deshaun Watson, Clemson
- 2017: Jalen Hurts/Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
- 2018: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
- 2019: Joe Burrow, LSU
- 2020: Mac Jones, Alabama
All of those guys are starting in the NFL. Bennett will be lucky to get drafted one day, and if you’re betting on a UGA quarterback to earn an NFL start, there’s a decent chance he wouldn’t crack the top 2.
But does that matter? It shouldn’t.
Perhaps Bennett can be the 2021 version of Jake Coker. It was Coker who reaped the benefits of having Lane Kiffin in his ear with Derrick Henry right behind him to take up all the attention. All eyes are still gonna be on that Georgia backfield with Zamir White, Kendall Milton and James Cook. They certainly were on Saturday. Kentucky dared Bennett to beat them … and he did.
Teams are going to continue to do that against Georgia. But Bennett could absolutely do Coker-like things with Monken in his ear. Shoot, he already is.
There’s no denying that Bennett developed the rapport you’d hope your starting quarterbacks would have with his pass-catchers. That Bowers play was just one example.
After Bowers somehow hauled that in, he found a seat on the Georgia bench. Bennett made his way over to the freshman sensation. The CBS cameras caught Bennett saying what appeared to be something to the effect of “I threw that one to you with your back turned.” Bowers nodded and the two exchanged a fist pump.
That was Bennett’s last play of the day. Something tells me this time, it won’t be the last time in which he converts some non-believers. And when he does, I’ll have no problem saying “I told you so.”
I don’t mind being that guy.