Championship checklist: Stetson Bennett proves he has downfield passing ability
Before Saturday, one of the criticisms against Stetson Bennett was that his downfield passing game left something to be desired.
On Oct. 11, for example, ESPN’s Bill Connelly wrote that it was Georgia’s “fatal flaw.”
“The other reason for pause: While quarterback Stetson Bennett IV has been fantastic filling in for and/or usurping starter JT Daniels — 69% completion rate, 95.2 Total QBR (first among passers with at least 50 dropbacks) and quite a few gorgeous play-action bombs — he hasn’t had to throw more than 21 passes in a game yet, and, incredibly, he’s thrown only 18 passes with Georgia ahead by less than 14 points.”
It’s apparent that Bennett has had to overcome the lingering narrative from last year, where against Alabama and Florida, he was a combined 23-of-56 with 4 interceptions.
Connelly followed it up with a tweet, and wrote: “Laughed out loud when I saw that only 18 of Stetson Bennett’s 62 passes were thrown when UGA was up by <14 points. We still don’t know what happens when they have to pass, and we might not till the SECCG.”
But thanks to several long strikes, including the opening touchdown against Missouri to Arian Smith, a 35-yarder, and then a near-touchdown to Jermaine Burton that went for 47, Bennett is on his way to proving doubters wrong.
Yes, the much-maligned Mizzou defense was the opponent, but the Tigers came into Saturday with the No. 4 pass defense in the SEC, and were most known for their troubles stopping the run.
Despite that, Bennett still had 11-of-13 completions go for at least 11 yards, including those highlight-reel passes. The rundown of the other double-digit completions went like this:
- Ladd McConkey 14-yarder
- Adonai Mitchell 15-yarder
- Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint 11-yarder
- Kenny McIntosh 31-yarder
- Brock Bowers 23-yarder
- Bowers 16-yarder
- Burton 17-yarder
- Darnell Washington 11-yarder
- Burton 12-yarder
This continues an earlier theme from Bennett, who had a 36-yard touchdown to Kearis Jackson against Florida, and in the previous game against Kentucky when Bennett connected on long touchdowns to James Cook (19 yards) and Bowers twice (27 and 20 yards).
While Bennett’s downfield passing has been one of the more refined areas of his game, it also gives him a leg up in the ongoing balance and choice between Bennett and JT Daniels. Daniels came in the Missouri game by the time it was already out of hand, and ran a vanilla version of the offense as he was 7-for-11 passing for 82 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Bennett was 13-for-19 for 255 yards with 2 touchdowns.
Put simply, Bennett is beginning to overcome the old narrative from last season especially that he can’t do it in crunch time. He almost always adds a key rushing play, which complements the running game; he is accurate with his throws, and the Georgia teammates love him. Daniels, meanwhile, is not the gunslinger he was last year, and appeared to be rusty from having so many weeks off. He is not the proven commodity that Bennett appears to be.
Bennett’s mobility has made defenses look silly on quarterback draws and zone reads against Auburn. That’s why he rushed for 41 yards, and overall has helped mask some of the issues in the traditional running game. Against Auburn, his long run was 30 yards, and against Kentucky, he had a 17-yarder.
One thing to keep in mind, and surely coach Kirby Smart has as a defensive-minded coach, is what would be more difficult for opposing defenses. A quarterback with mobility who can scramble to keep plays alive, and get a tight first down? Or a quarterback who has missed an extensive amount of time this season?
The fatal flaw may becoming a notable weapon down the stretch.