QB Stetson Bennett giving Georgia coaches something to think about

Coaches Poll-Top 25-rankings-Week 7-Georgia football-2021

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Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) after the Bulldogs’ game with Auburn in Jordan–Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

ATHENS — Georgia has a quarterback problem, but it’s a good problem to have.

Stetson Bennett is the Bulldogs’ backup quarterback, but it’s probably not a stretch to say that he’s the best backup quarterback in the country. In fact, the numbers say it’s so.

Through six games, Bennett has the second-highest quarterback rating in all of Division I football. His rating of 206.55 is second only to Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall, who has rating of 234.28 thanks to 1,478 yards passing with 14 touchdowns and one interception.

Bennett’s numbers are based on five games. He did not play in the Bulldogs’ season opener against Clemson, a 10-3 win over the nation’s third-ranked team at the time. But Bennett has played in the five games since, including three starts.

The latest came on the road Saturday against No. 18 Auburn. Bennett finished with 231 yards on 14-of-21 passing for 231 yards and two touchdowns in the 34-10 Georgia victory. He was sacked once for a 10-yard loss, otherwise he had 51 yards rushing on six carries.

“Stetson played a hell of a game,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Stetson made plays with his feet. I mean, you go back and look at that game and there probably are one, two, three, probably four big plays in the game that he makes with his athleticism. That’s a dynamic that he brings that forces them to defend us a different way.”

On the season, Bennett has now completed 69.4% of his passes for 746 yards with 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He’s also averaging 24 yards rushing per game and has been sacked once.

Stetson Bennett stats

JT Daniels has been playing very well, too. At least, he was before being sidelined for much of the last three games.

The redshirt junior from Irvine, Calif., has completed 76.1% of his passes for 569 yards, 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. However, he has been dogged by injuries since the first game. Daniels missed Game 2 against UAB entirely due to a strained oblique muscle. Daniels came back the next week against South Carolina and passed for 303 yards and three touchdowns. He also started what eventually was a 62-0 win over Vanderbilt, but played only the first quarter.

The next week against Arkansas, it was revealed that Daniels was dealing with a strained latissimus dorsi muscle in his back. Daniels has not played in the last two games and had been limited to “soft toss” passing in Georgia’s practices. However, he is continuing to improve.

This Saturday, the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (6-0, 4-0 SEC) prepare to play host to No. 11 Kentucky (6-0, 4-0) for homecoming on Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS). Smart was asked how the Bulldogs might handle the position if Daniels proves to be at or close to 100 percent recovered this week.

“That’s just a hypothetical,” Smart said during Georgia’s media day news conference on Monday. “I mean, we’re trying to get JT back and he was much improved this last week at the end of the week. He had a really productive throwing session, I think it was Thursday. For the game, he was able to throw more than the previous week. We’re going to let him throw some (Monday), although it will be a lighter practice. ...

“We’ll look and see how he is and where he is and see how he can do. That’s always the case. But I’m not going to get into that right now. I’m just going to make sure we’ve got a healthy quarterback and keeping them healthy.

When asked about whether he was trying to make the decision hard on Georgia’s coaches, Bennett just shrugged. “I just think everybody on this team, we just try to win each game,” he said.

Credit: UGA

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Georgia football coach Kirby Smart comments on the play of quarterback Stetson Bennett against Auburn and the team mentality without starter JT Daniels.

Credit: UGA

In the meantime, Bennett said he’s just enjoying every moment. The redshirt senior from Blackshear could have decided to hang up football or transfer out to finish his playing career elsewhere. But he chose to utilize his final year of eligibility at Georgia, where he’s already earned an undergraduate degree and is now working on a masters in learning design and technology.

To say it has been fun would be an understatement. But Bennett’s trying to remain level-headed and focused on the end goal.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said in his postgame interview at Auburn. “I try to keep level. … I get juiced up sometimes, but … I need to keep a level head and make sure we execute our offense. But it is fun.”

Bennett said the win at Auburn was one of his most enjoyable moments in sports. It was Bennett’s first career start in a true SEC road game. Jordan-Hare Stadium was sold out with more than 87,000 fans in attendance, and it is known as one of the loudest venues in the league.

“Yeah, it was awesome,” Bennett said with a grin. “Especially going into their end zone with the student section over there. I mean, it was so loud. But I think we did a great job. Didn’t have any false starts, didn’t have to call any timeouts because of substitutions or anything like that. I thought we did a great job.”

They did, thanks in no small part to Bennett.

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