Georgia football: After Cocktail Party loss to Florida, it's time Dawgs moved on from Bennett
Twenty-five years ago, Steve Spurrier and his Florida Gators, led by star quarterback Danny Wuerffel, met Ray Goff and the Georgia Bulldogs, featuring a sophomore quarterback-wide receiver tandem of Mike Bobo and Hines Ward, in the annual Cocktail Party matchup — played this particular year at Sanford Stadium instead of Jacksonville. The Gators had won the past 5 meetings and had every intention of making it 6 in a row, as they had designs on a national championship.
They won 52-17 that day, nearly matching the 52-14 scoreline of the previous year’s game. But after a late score to put them over the 50-point mark, a feat never before accomplished by a visiting team between the hedges, Spurrier was said to have been asked why he added to the margin instead of running the clock out.
“I wanted to hang half a hundred on ’em,” the legendary head coach apparently said.
For a while, the Gators looked close to their own “half a hundred” game against the Bulldogs 25 years later in Jacksonville. They’d settle for 44, still the most they have scored in the series since 2008.
Whether it was an act of mercy by Dan Mullen in deference to a banged-up Dawgs defense is a question we may never know the answer to.
Here’s what I do know: Banged-up or not, the Georgia defense picked a bad day to have a bad day, as this was easily one of the worst performances on that side of the ball in the Kirby Smart era. But this column isn’t really about defense. It’s about quarterbacks, as in Florida having an elite one and Georgia having, well, one who is not even close to elite.
Kyle Trask showed that he deserves the Heisman Trophy if he has anything to say about it. I imagine 4 touchdowns and 347 yards in the 1st half — even against a depleted Bulldogs secondary, as Smart’s “next man up” philosophy with star Richard LeCounte and others missing looked more like backyard football — sends a strong message to the 927 fine people who vote for the Heisman.
All told, Trask finished with 474 yards, 8 shy of Tim Tebow’s single-game school record set in 2009. It was just another day for the powerful Florida offense, which looks like it could give Alabama a run for their money in Atlanta next month at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And Trask might need to start making room for a couple more trophies if he keeps this up.
It must be nice to have a quarterback like Trask, right? Meanwhile, Stetson Bennett IV, who was shaken up in the 1st quarter due to a shoulder injury and left briefly before being pulled later on, showed that while he can beat the Auburns, Tennessees and Kentuckys of the world, he’s out of his depth in big games.
It’s plain to see that the Bennett bus has taken the team as far as it can go, and while the quarterback situation took a hit with the opt-out of Jamie Newman before the season began, surely you can find someone capable of passing for more than 78 yards. If Smart feels that the Bulldogs’ best chance to win lies with the former walk-on, he’s either being willfully ignorant, lying to himself or has no idea how to evaluate quarterback talent.
The good news for Bennett: He wasn’t to blame for that defensive performance. Although at the rate the Dawgs were losing bodies, no one would have likely batted an eye if Bennett had lined up at safety on Saturday.
Either way, the Bulldogs’ College Football Playoff hopes are gone. And outside of them running the table and Florida stumbling down the stretch, their hopes for a 4th straight trip to the SEC Championship Game are out the door as well. For a program that has put its flag in the ground and expects to compete for national championships year in and year out, this was a failure on all fronts.
The good news is that the Bulldogs have 4 winnable games remaining on their schedule (by winnable, I mean games they should win) and have a great chance to end the season at 8-2, positioning themselves for a decent bowl bid. Still, hitching their wagon to Bennett is an exercise in futility, no matter what Smart says about “body of work.” If “body of work” were important, why was it D’Wan Mathis and not JT Daniels, who had a full season as the starter at Southern Cal under his belt, who relieved Bennett against Arkansas?
And I’d love to think that we’re not having this discussion again in 2021, when 5-star recruit Brock Vandagriff arrives. Although, it seems that all 5-star quarterbacks are good for in Athens in the Smart era is transferring elsewhere.
But as far as the rest of this season is concerned, whether it’s Daniels or Mathis, I think it’s safe to say that Bennett’s ride, although enjoyable at times, has to come to an end. The fans have seen all they need to see. Whether the head coach has seen all he needs to see is another story.