Georgia sticking with Stetson Bennett as it seeks continuity

ATHENS — It could be a great ruse orchestrated by Georgia coach Kirby Smart in advance of the Kentucky game — he has employed such tactics in the past - but indications are he plans to stick with Stetson Bennett at quarterback.

Between Bennett’s subpar performance in the 41-24 loss to Alabama and the Bulldogs having a bye week in the interim, the situation seemed ripe for exploring a quarterback change, or at least the introduction of a rotation. While Smart didn’t dismiss the notion on Monday, he did offer his current starter a quasi-vote of confidence.

“Stetson’s still repping with the 1s,” Smart said when asked if Bennett was still “his guy.” “We’ve gotten other guys reps, but that’s what you try to do in an off week, grow your team and get them better. But, at the same time, we’re trying to create continuity, trying to get better as a team and as a unit. And, you know, you don’t base your season on one game. You base your season on what gives you the best chance to get better and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Against Alabama, Bennett had his worst individual performance since taking over as the Bulldogs' quarterback in the second quarter of the opener. The redshirt junior from Blackshear threw his first three interceptions of the year and completed just 45% of his passes overall as the No. 2 Crimson Tide blanked Georgia’s offense after trailing 24-20 at the half.

The Bulldogs have two other quarterbacks to which they could turn in redshirt sophomore JT Daniels and redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis. Mathis started in the opener against Arkansas, played the first six offensive possessions and then four series since. Daniels started 12 games at Southern Cal but hasn’t taken a live snap since transferring to Georgia over the summer. Neither quarterback even warmed up on the sidelines as Georgia’s offense struggled in the second half in Tuscaloosa.

Georgia’s players were off all weekend in adherence to the altered SEC schedule to adjust to COVID-19 postponements of two games the previous week. Instead, of playing Kentucky this past Saturday, the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (3-1) will play the Wildcats (2-3) in Lexington this Saturday (noon, SEC Network). Kentucky lost on the road to Missouri, 20-10, this past Saturday and will be playing for the sixth consecutive week.

That would seem an ideal time for Georgia to experiment with its offense. But there was no evidence that the rotation was altered during the three practices conducted last week.

“We’re always evaluating guys; it doesn’t change,” Smart said. “Y’all keep asking the questions, but we’re always evaluating our guys at quarterback and we’re always trying to get better and growing their game. We’re trying to look at it as, ‘what do we have to do to get our team from Point A to Point B?’ That’s growth, that’s competition. Every position has that. It doesn’t change at quarterback. It’s what you need to get better and that’s what we’ll continue to do this week.”

Chiefly, that’s not turning the ball over, achieving more balance and creating more explosive plays.

Heading to Kentucky, Georgia’s 41st overall in both total offense (418.5 ypg) and scoring (33 ppg). That’s sixth and fifth, respectively, among SEC teams.

Bennett’s quarterback rating dropped significantly this week to 135.95. For the season, he has completed 57.26% of passes for 958 yards with seven touchdowns. The 5-foot-10 signalcaller had five throws deflected against Alabama, four of them at the line scrimmage.

But the Bulldogs don’t believe Bennett’s performance against the Tide is reflective of his relative abilities. Smart and Bennett’s offensive teammates emphasized those around the quarterback need to play better.

“As the tight ends, we wanted to focus on being stronger in the run game and being more efficient in our routes,” sophomore right end John FitzPatrick said. “We took those three days (last week) to work on that and we got better.”

Said running back Zamir White: “We feel like that outbreak game is coming and we’re going to get it.”

Kentucky’s a tough crew to get well against. The Wildcats are fourth in the SEC and 30th in the country in total defense (357.2 ypg), just 10 spots below Georgia’s heralded group.

But expect a concerted effort from the Bulldogs to get back to basics and take some pressure off their quarterback, whoever it happens to be.

“They are really big and stout,” Smart said. “I thought they did a really good job against us last year and their defense is one of the best in the conference.”