If you guessed Stetson Bennett would start Game 2 for the No. 2 team in these United States … well, your name is probably Stetson Fleming Bennett IV, the little man who won’t go away. He believes in himself, even if he’s the only one. He keeps hanging around Athens – OK, he spent a season at a Mississippi JUCO – when any other self-respecting quarterback would have been done with Georgia long ago.

ExploreA closer look at Georgia's win

Here, though, is a stat SBF IV can wear with pride. Over his extended time in Athens – he arrived in 2017, when Jake Fromm did; he was one year behind Jacob Eason, one year ahead of Justin Fields – he has started six games. Georgia has won four. The exceptions came at Alabama last year after Georgia led at halftime and against Florida on a day Bennett hurt his shoulder.

He’s not Eason or Fromm or Fields. He’s not JT Daniels. Still, Bennett is a fine guy to have around. This week, crafty Kirby Smart allowed the watching world to believe Carson Beck would start if Daniels, who tweaked an oblique against Clemson in Charlotte, couldn’t go. Instead Georgia deputized Bennett, again, and the team that didn’t manage a touchdown in its opener came out and looked like LSU circa 2019.

ExploreHow Stetson Bennett earned start against UAB

Fifty-one seconds into the second quarter against UAB, a resuscitated program that prides itself on defense, Bennett had thrown for 245 yards and four touchdowns. Such performances won Joe Burrow a Heisman Trophy. Bennett will not win the Heisman. Heck, he mightn’t start another game. No matter. He was flat-out tremendous on a day when the nation’s No. 2 team played as if it had a point to prove. That team would win 56-7.

On the game’s second snap – you might have missed it, ESPN opting to bump UGA-UAB to its online platform while waiting for South Carolina and Tennessee to finish their games – the surprise starter faked a handoff and threw long for Jermaine Burton. The team that hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown over 60 minutes against Clemson needed 38 seconds and 73 yards to rectify that. Then Bennett threw another TD, this to Kenny McIntosh for 12 yards. Then Bennett really got going.

Freshman tight end Brock Bowers ran under a sideline throw and went the distance, which proved quite a distance – 89 yards. Then Bennett threw long again, this delivery finding the awaiting arms of wideout Arian Smith, another frosh. (As we know, Bennett is known as the Mailman.) Toward half’s end, he felt the need to redeem himself – he’d just thrown his first incompletion – and did so by finding Bowers again to make the score 35-nil.

Bennett’s halftime stats: Nine passes, eight completions, five touchdowns, 269 yards. His final numbers: 12 passes, 10 completions, 288 yards. He averaged 24 yards per attempt, which is insane, which Bennett himself conceded.

“Seems to me that’s an Oklahoma stat line when they play North/West Texas,” he said.

Then: “I was nervous ... I didn’t eat the pregame meal.”

Which never once showed. Indeed, this was Smart’s rationale at starting Bennett over Beck: “We thought it would have a calming effect.”

Credit: UGA

Caption
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart discusses the decision to start Stetson Bennett with injury to quarterback JT Daniels.

Credit: UGA

His day was done by the third quarter, whereupon Beck re-entered – he’d played a couple of first-half series to no great effect – and threw a touchdown pass himself. He also threw a pick-6, which is the only way UAB was going to score.

You could almost hear Smart chuckling – not that Smart is given to unscripted chuckles – and saying, “That enough offensive touchdowns for you?” His defense remains world-class. If we wondered whether Georgia might overlook UAB, we had our answer in the first minute.

As for Stetson Bennett: It wasn’t so long that 99.9 percent of Bulldog Nation was demanding that he be benched in favor of Daniels. That finally happened six games into last season. Georgia hasn’t lost since. Daniels is an outstanding college quarterback. But if we’ve learned anything over time, it’s that a team is only as strong as its backup quarterback.

Georgia has a darn good backup quarterback. He mightn’t be the people’s choice, but he’ll always be ready. He has made a rather astonishing career from being ready.

Asked about those Georgia fans who might have been less than ecstatic over his latest start, Bennett said: “It didn’t matter to me what outside people were talking about. It didn’t really matter to me what anybody else said.”

For the record, here’s what Georgia’s head coach said afterward: ”I’m really proud of the job he did. Nobody has done more for the University of Georgia than Stetson Bennett.”

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