It's clear to everbody but Kirby Smart. Georgia's title hopes rest on JT Daniels
Stetson Bennett was largely the same kind of quarterback he’s been all season for Georgia, but in Saturday’s high-stakes game, the Bulldogs needed more from their quarterback.
Alabama QB Bryce Young threw for 421 yards and 3 TDs. On paper, Bennett appeared to hold his own with 340 yards and 3 TD tosses.
In reality, Georgia’s defense couldn’t overcome Bennett’s mistakes. He missed on key 3rd-down tries and threw 2 interceptions, including an SEC-title sealing pick-6.
Now the decision for Kirby Smart and Todd Monken is will JT Daniels be the change needed for Georgia to win a national championship?
Simply put: Georgia didn’t have enough explosive plays, and didn’t capitalize enough on drives deep into Alabama territory to make a difference in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday in Atlanta.
The question remains if Georgia can win a national championship behind Daniels, but after Saturday, it’s clear that it can’t with Bennett.
With the College Football Playoff rankings still pending, the other contenders, such as Michigan and Cincinnati, have defenses that are similar, or better, than Alabama. Cincinnati was higher ranked in pass defense entering Saturday, and Michigan was higher ranked in scoring defense than Alabama.
The key decision in Saturday’s game for Smart came after DeMarco Hellams picked off Bennett in the third quarter on 2nd-and-9 on a pass intended for Brock Bowers from the Alabama 19-yard line. And Smart decided to stick with Bennett in that situation.
The @AlabamaFTBL defense scores on a Jordan Battle INT. pic.twitter.com/XH0Mx8KYPE
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 5, 2021
By late in the game, while Bowers was valuable and effective, it appeared that Bennett was too reliant on him, and looked his way a lot, perhaps too much. Alabama knew it and largely covered him well despite him catching 139 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Bowers was targeted 16 times, while the other Georgia receivers had less than half that number. James Cook, who had a huge game against Alabama last year, was not a major factor in the passing game. Jermaine Burton and Ladd McConkey each flashed but didn’t offer the consistent contributions needed to help Bennett and the offense.
In the beginning, it appeared that George Pickens would provide just the target Bennett needed to get the offense in gear.
Another decision for Smart came late in the third quarter when he elected to go for it on 4th-and-9. And Bennett, facing pressure, lofted a pass incomplete in the face of a safety blitz.
It was the kind of situation Bennett and Georgia haven’t faced all season, as 2 key drives of 11 and 12 plays both sputtered to an end on the 19-yard line. Bennett had attempted 11 passes in the fourth quarter all year and he’s had the lead for all of them.
Ultimately, while the historic Georgia defense showed gaping holes at times Saturday, it couldn’t make up for Bennett not being able to lift the offense to another level and keep pace with Alabama. There were several missed opportunities, especially in the third quarter when Georgia had the ball for 12:07 of the 15 minutes and couldn’t score.
For weeks earlier in the season, Bennett was praised for his scrambling ability, especially compared to Daniels, but now Daniels has to offer more explosive plays, and downfield threats, especially if Pickens can offer any more of a threat. Smart himself has admitted that Daniels gets the ball out quicker, and is more accurate. That’s what will be needed against the likes of Michigan, Cincinnati and Alabama in a possible rematch.
Earlier in the season, Smart referred to a “preconceived notion” that Daniels is the only one who can lead the Bulldogs to a national title. He bristled at that theory, and said at the very least it wasn’t tested. But now it has been, and he can’t afford not to make a change.
Turns out, that preconceived notion may be right after all. The fans and media may have been on to something. Will Smart test it in live-action in a few weeks? His legacy — and Georgia’s title hopes — may depend on it.