Georgia’s Kirby Smart: Maybe Stetson Bennett ‘should’ve been the guy’

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

Caption
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart addresses the play of quarterback Stetson Bennett and offensive line in 27-6 win over Auburn.

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

ATHENS – If you listen very, very closely and maybe slow down the audio for additional clarity, you can almost make out Georgia coach Kirby Smart saying he might’ve been wr-wr-wrong about quarterback Stetson Bennett IV.

Alas, he never completely gets there. But there was at least a hint of humility.

“Some people could probably argue that we didn’t make the right decision in the first game; maybe (Bennett) should’ve been the guy,” Smart said after Bennett led the No. 4 Bulldogs to a 27-6 win over No. 7 Auburn. "Not only was he not the guy, he was not getting a lot of reps early in camp. To his credit, the reps he got he took a lot of value in. … He came and saw me a couple of times, wanting to know why he was where he was and why he wasn’t getting a lot of reps. We talked endlessly about it (as) an offensive staff. It wasn’t a clear-cut deal. It wasn’t like he wasn’t the guy, but it wasn’t like he was. All he did in scrimmages was move the ball with the 3s. It’s hard to measure that because you can discount it for being with the 3s and he didn’t get a lot opportunities.

“But to be honest with you, he didn’t cry, pout, leave, transfer, have his parents call, he didn’t do any of that. He just kept working and working and working, and when he got an opportunity, he took advantage of it.”

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Then Smart proceeded to go into what all Bennett needed to improve on.

Undoubtedly, Bennett has much on which get better. As it is, though, the former walk-on enters Week 3 as the undisputed starter. He heads into Saturday’s contest against No. 21 Tennessee having completed 65 percent of his passes for 451 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Everybody’s surprised, but Bennett.

“My goal was always to start here,” he said. “That’s why I came here in the first place instead of taking a smaller offer where I could’ve started earlier. But I came here to play football and win an SEC championship and hopefully a national championship for the Georgia Bulldogs.”

Said Smart: “Stetson’s never lacked confidence in himself. I’m happy for him. I want to temper that enthusiasm because he knows he’s got to get better.”

Here are some other things we learned from Georgia’s decisive win over No. 4 Auburn:

Havoc being had

Georgia’s top-ranked defense is meeting the standard when it comes to creating “havoc” on defense. Havoc is the inside-football term for negative-yardage plays, turnovers and deflections.

A week after recording three interceptions, two sacks and a fumble against Arkansas, the Bulldogs’ defense added three more sacks, six tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble.

Nickelback Mark Webb notched his first career pick at the end of third quarter. The interception was the first thrown by Bo Nix in 251 throws, an Auburn record.

Through two games, Georgia is allowing 8 points and 228 yards per game.

“I didn’t think we finished well,” Smart said. “I think we had four or five missed sacks, just couldn’t get (Nix) on the ground. … I was pleased … with six points (allowed) and the production. I didn’t like the third downs.”

Auburn converted 7-of-16, which “doesn’t meet the standard,” according to Smart.

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Jumbo package

Georgia’s run game was solid on Saturday, and decidedly better than a week earlier. The Bulldogs finished with 202 yards rushing, including career bests of 88 yards and 19 attempts for sophomore running back Zamir White.

White also scored touchdowns on runs of 2 and 1 yards, and both of them ended with the 6-foot, 215-pounder upright in the end zone. That was made possible, in part, by the presence of a couple of extremely large men paving the way for him.

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken unleashed a new “jumbo package” for goal-line situations. It includes defensive tackles Jordan Davis (6-6, 330) and Jalen Carter (6-3, 305) lining up at H-back and fullback, respectively.

“Monken talked about the inability to travel a lot of guys in the NFL and they use defensive players for those packages,” Smart said. “We certainly think Jordan is a weapon with his size and his athleticism. And Jalen played a lot of that stuff in high school, some fullback and things. So, we’ve had it in a while and thought we’d use it when we needed it.”

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

Caption
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett addresses when he was told he would start against Auburn and his role going forward.

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

Bennett was told Monday

After all the fuss all week about Georgia possibly starting D’Wan Mathis or JT Daniels instead of Bennett, or rotating two or three quarterbacks, Bennett said he was informed Monday he’d be the starter.

“I knew on Monday that I was going to be the guy,” Bennett said. “It always helps having certainty that it’s going to be your ball. And just getting reps with the 1s all week helps with the timing.”

But Bennett knows better than most that his situation could change. Daniels was activated from a knee injury last week and Mathis is cleared and played the last series on Saturday.

“If you don’t produce you don’t play, that’s just how it goes,” he said.

Homey atmosphere

Officially, there were only 20,524 spectators at Sanford Stadium for Saturday’s game. That’s 77.8 percent fewer than usual for a Georgia home game.

But it felt and sounded like a lot more, according to the Bulldogs.

“It sure felt like there were more,” Smart said. “I don’t know what the total number was, but it felt like there were a lot of fans out there. I thought the crowd noise was helpful.”

UGA was able to accentuate the sound by piping in crowd noise between plays at a rate of 70 decibels and after plays at 90 decibels, per SEC guidelines. But the actual people were making a lot of racket themselves. And the fourth-quarter light show, featuring the stadium’s red LED lights and fans cellphone flashlights, was as stirring as ever.

Caption
Georgia fans cheer during 27-6 Georgia win over Auburn Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Georgia fans cheer during 27-6 Georgia win over Auburn Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, at Sanford Stadium in Athens.  (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Georgia fans cheer during 27-6 Georgia win over Auburn Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Healthy Dawgs

Georgia appears to have made it out of the physical, rivalry game without any serious injuries and should be close to 100% for the Tennessee game on Saturday.

Running back James Cook hurt a shoulder getting tackled out of bounds after a long run in the first half and did not return. It turns out he could have, but the Bulldogs didn’t need to risk it with backup backs Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards playing so well. They split 19 carries between them after Cook left the game late in the second quarter.

Right tackle Warren McClendon had to come out due to cramps. Bennett also bruised a finger on his throwing hand when it hit a defenders' helmet after a second-half pass completion.

“All those guys are fine,” Smart said. “James could have come back in the game but we didn’t need him to. … And Stetson’s fine.”

Graduate transfer tight end Tre’ McKitty (knee) dressed out Saturday but didn’t play.

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