Bryce Young vs. Stetson Bennett IV: Call it ironic or just call it a surprisingly fantastic QB battle
I’d say 50-to-1.
Oh, I thought you asked me what the odds were in August that we’d see Bryce Young vs. Stetson Bennett IV to decide an SEC Championship … and that Bennett would be favored to win it.
Back then, we were under the impression that The Mailman had delivered his last memorable moment for Georgia and that JT Daniels would be slotted as the starter. At the very least, Carson Beck would be the backup for Daniels, AKA the preseason Heisman Trophy candidate who represented the team with Jordan Davis at SEC Media Days. That was the same week we found out Young had already hauled in $1 million in NIL endorsements ahead of his highly anticipated first season as Alabama’s starter.
Last year, Bennett started more so out of necessity than anything else. Jamie Newman opted out after transferring from Wake Forest, D’Wan Mathis struggled and Daniels was unavailable early in the season because of injury. Bennett, the former walk-on, saw the wheels fall off in Jacksonville, in part because he hurt his shoulder and in part because he wasn’t able to execute Todd Monken’s offense.
Bennett was supposed to be a footnote in Georgia history, not the starting quarterback of the most dominant team in program history who is now favored by nearly a touchdown to beat Alabama.
Did I say 50-to-1? Let’s go 100-to-1.
Georgia-Alabama was the predicted preseason matchup for the SEC Championship. Bennett vs. Young wasn’t even a prediction to consider. And if it was, you would’ve been laughed out of the room. The only similarity you could’ve talked yourself into was that both are on the wrong side of 6 feet.
The last time that a quarterback started in the SEC Championship and didn’t get drafted was Austin Appleby, who was Florida’s starter in 2016. Young fits into a group of SEC Championship starters like Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm, Jarrett Stidham, Joe Burrow, Kyle Trask and Mac Jones. Bennett? Let’s just say he stands out.
But make no mistake. In 2021, Bennett has shown that he’s much closer to being in that group than being in the same company as Appleby.
(That wasn’t meant as a shot at Appleby. I know he’s a nice guy and he won some big games, but I think even he’d tell us that he’s not in the same breath as those aforementioned guys.)
The question now is whether Bennett can go blow for blow with the Heisman favorite. On the year, Bennett’s efficiency stands out more than the cumulative numbers:
You didn’t need to see those numbers to know which team demands more of their quarterback. Young has had to do more heavy lifting than Bennett.
For example, Young had already set the Alabama single-game passing record, yet in the 4th quarter at home against Arkansas, he had a 1-touchdown lead. Despite Young’s 40 touchdown passes, Alabama was in a 1-score game in 6 of its 8 SEC contests. Bennett, on the other hand, hasn’t led by less than 14 points in any 4th quarter in a game that he started. In fact, Bennett has only attempted 10 passes in the 4th quarter all year (6-for-10, 83 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). Young attempted 10 passes just on that last Auburn drive Saturday.
There’s no denying that if it’s a 1-score game late on Saturday, advantage Alabama.
There’s also the other elephant in the room (pun intended). Smart had a second-half lead against Saban all 3 times they played. In the 4th quarter in those games, Alabama outscored UGA by a combined 31-0.
Of course, every Georgia fan will point out the obvious. That is, good luck being competitive for 60 minutes against a defense that good. Bennett and Young are tackling different beasts entirely. Young is trying to become the first quarterback all year to lead his offense to more than 17 points against Georgia. He’s trying to become just the 6th quarterback to lead a first-half scoring drive against the Dawgs.
Bennett has a daunting task himself. Avoiding Will Anderson hasn’t been a picnic, either. The last starting quarterback not to get sacked by Anderson? Zach Calzada. Also of note, Alabama played in 6 games since that stunner in College Station. That was also the last time that Anderson didn’t have multiple tackles for loss in a game.
Neither quarterback is getting off easy, though it’d be surprising to see this game follow the script we saw in the Iron Bowl. The last time an SEC champion didn’t hit 28 points in Atlanta was 2007 LSU. Each of the past 3 winners hit 35 points. Go figure that in 8 SEC Championship appearances, Georgia has never hit 35 points.
With Bennett as the starter, UGA has yet to be held to less than 30 points. A dominant ground game and a generational defense who sets up short fields also has something to do with that. But Bennett held the starting job because he executed at a high level. It’s as simple as that. If that weren’t the case, we would’ve seen Daniels have a real chance to win the job back. Shoot, if Bennett wasn’t executing at a high level, we probably would’ve seen Georgia trail in the second half at some point this year.
Still waiting on that.
Georgia played 720 minutes of regular-season football and trailed for 17 minutes and 29 seconds. The latest deficit came with 9:43 left in the second quarter against Tennessee. That doesn’t happen with a plug-and-play starting quarterback. This is by no means a dink-and-dunk offense. He has the confidence to make a throw like this on 4th down:
Highest ADOT among P5 QBs:
1. Sam Hartman: 12.8
2. Stetson Bennett: 12.6
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) November 10, 2021
That was a long-winded way of saying that don’t let Bennett’s lack of volume fool you. He’s been accurate downfield, which is a big reason Georgia has been so unstoppable. Perhaps above all else, it’s a big reason Smart stuck with him.
It’ll be fascinating to watch Bennett go toe-to-toe with Young. No disrespect to KJ Jefferson and Hendon Hooker, but Young is the Heisman front-runner who is an impressive afternoon from becoming the first Alabama quarterback to win the award. What would it say about Young if Bennett looked like the better player Saturday? Maybe that’s not a fair question because Bennett doesn’t have to face the Georgia defense.
What is fair is wondering how this will all play out Saturday for a pair of quarterbacks who have never led a team on a stage like this. There are Playoff and Heisman implications at stake in Atlanta.
What are the odds that we’re in for a thrilling matchup with these 2 quarterbacks?
Much better than 50-to-1.