Georgia football: Smart's sticking with Bennett, but he alone won't get Dawgs to promised land
I guess it’s settled, then. Stetson Bennett IV will be Georgia’s starting quarterback when they visit Kentucky on Saturday. There won’t be a move made at QB1 after a tough outing against Alabama.
And I doubted Kirby Smart would make a move in the first place. Was he tempted? I can’t read his mind, but you figure that he, at the very least, thought about it.
Sure, Bennett was 18-of-40 and threw 3 interceptions against the Crimson Tide on Oct. 17. And the hope is that he can shake that game off and resemble the Stetson Bennett we saw earlier in the season.
Smart leaving Bennett out there sends a message that he hasn’t lost confidence in him. But is it the best move long-term?
My biggest concern with Bennett is his ceiling. He has performed rather well, for the most part. But is “rather well” enough to get the Dawgs to where they need to be?
Honestly? It depends. Look at Jake Fromm in 2017. As a freshman, he threw for 300 or more yards in just one game, finishing with a total of 2,615 yards and 24 touchdowns. All Georgia did was advance to the national championship game.
Was he an elite quarterback during his career? No. Everyone knew that. And yet, he gave his team a chance to win just about every time he stepped onto the field. It also helped that he had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, a nice complementary back behind those two in D’Andre Swift, solid options at wide receiver, and a top-shelf defense led by D’Andre Walker and Roquan Smith.
Fast forward to 2020. The defense is still terrific, but it has a few questions, primarily in the secondary. We’ve seen Kearis Jackson blossom into one of the leading receivers in the conference and some flashes from true freshman Jermaine Burton, and hopefully, George Pickens can shake off a slow start and find the form he had late last year.
But the Bulldogs need a little more production from their running game: They’re averaging around 4 yards per carry right now. Zamir White is still the top option, but James Cook has proven a reliable option out of the backfield and as a receiving option when healthy, and first-year player Kendall Milton is making a case for an expanded role in the offense. Georgia just doesn’t have enough consistency here as they did with Chubb and Michel three years ago, and while I’m not saying they need the second coming of those two, they do need their current running back corps to raise its collective level of play over the next six-plus games.
What about the tight ends? The good news is that Tre’ McKitty appears to be back at full health, getting the call against Tennessee and Alabama. I’d look for further ways to get him acclimated, as well as John FitzPatrick and Darnell Washington. A reliable pass-catching tight end is a good thing to have — just ask Florida, where Kyle Pitts has developed into the best in the country at that position. Why can’t that happen at Georgia?
So while all eyes will be on Bennett, the entire success (or lack thereof) of the offense isn’t on him. Part of that rests on offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s game plan. What adjustments has he made during the bye week to address the issues I’ve mentioned? By no means is it a red-alert situation, but it’s enough of a situation that it needs to be examined.
But it’s a bit of a paradox: While everything offensively doesn’t start and end with Bennett, he may be the player taking the brunt of the criticism if things go wrong on that side of the ball. That means he’ll be scrutinized extra closely as the Dawgs head to Kentucky, a team that was dominated against Missouri. Saturday will be a great day for Georgia to flush out the memories of the Alabama game and take out their frustrations on a vulnerable Wildcats team, and I think they will. That said, I have a feeling that if Bennett gets off to a cold start, it’s a big red flag and could force Smart’s hand.
For now, though, The Mailman will get at least another week to deliver. Hopefully he, the offense, and the defense can come together to deliver a fourth win for the Bulldogs on Saturday.