Carson Beck looks like Stetson Bennett as Georgia Bulldogs roll
Tennessee has no answer for UGA’s quarterback
1 / 53
Georgia quarterback Carson Beck (15) celebrates a touchdown pass to Georgia tight end Brock Bowers (not pictured) during the first quarter against the Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, Saturday, November 18, 2023, in Knoxville, Tn. The Bulldogs won 38-10. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — I was an early adopter of the view that Stetson Bennett was a good quarterback, not just a good story. He was a playmaker, not just a caretaker for the Georgia Bulldogs. Eventually, Bennett proved to everyone that he was a star.
I’ve been a bit slower to come around on Bennett’s successor, Carson Beck. He’s never had a bad game. It’s just that the Bulldogs weren’t asking him to do much against overmatched competition early in the season. Beck was delivering short, accurate passes for his targets to catch-and-run but the Bulldogs weren’t riding him to victories.
Now that Beck has more seasoning as UGA’s quarterback, he’s cooking as much as Bennett ever did. Tennessee was the last real obstacle between Georgia and a second straight undefeated season. It turns out the Volunteers weren’t much of a challenge because Beck was so good Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Beck was 24-of-30 passing for 298 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions as No. 1 Georgia routed No. 18 Tennessee 38-10. His performance reminded me of what Bennett did here two years ago. I was at that game, too, and concluded that it should have left no doubt that Bennett should be the starter over JT Daniels (remember him?).
Georgia coach Kirby Smart brought up that game, unprompted, when talking about Beck’s evolution. He said Beck’s growth started when he was practicing against future NFL first-round draft picks, but like Bennett before, Beck had to take another step.
“Still remember when Stetson came up here two years ago and was running around like a crazy man and making plays,” Samrt said. “And I’m like, ‘This guy is throwing the ball at D-linemen.’ ... But he grew up by going on the road.
“That’s what we had to see Carson do. Go to Auburn and go to Tennessee, and grow up.”
Beck’s game is looking fully developed now. He was good at Auburn, versus Florida in Jacksonville and the past two weeks at home against Missouri and Ole Miss. Beck was even better against the Vols.
You can tell Beck’s confidence is growing by the way he plays. His teammates notice it in his demeanor.
“He’s grown more vocal throughout this year,” Bulldogs tight end Brock Bowers said. “That’s kind of what we need from the quarterback.”
Said Beck: “I try to bring energy to the table. I try to lead the guys. But it’s a team effort and if we continue to execute, sky’s the limit.”
It would be hard for Beck to lead the Bulldogs if he couldn’t back up his words with action. He’s been doing that all season, but especially the past month. The schedule got tougher, injuries to skill players plied up and Beck has played better. Beck has hit his stride just in time for the Bulldogs to close out a second consecutive undefeated season and make a bid for a third consecutive national championship.
Beck still isn’t getting as much buzz as other top quarterbacks. His betting odds to win the Heisman Trophy (35-to-1) are much shorter than Bo Nix (Oregon), Michael Penix Jr. (Washington) and Jayden Daniels (LSU). Even Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (6-1) is a much bigger favorite to win the Heisman than Beck.
Beck brushed off the relative lack of recognition. Smart said circumstances explain some of that.
“The worst thing for Beck, individually, is he plays with a good defense,” Smart said. “Some of these other guys, they’ve got to score 40 (points) a game (to win). With Carson Beck, I don’t think we as an offensive staff think we have to score 40 a game. ... You are able to call the game differently as an offensive coordinator.
“I don’t think (Beck) cares about that. But he’s talented and he’s smart and he’s a better athlete than you think. And he’s got (Bowers) and some good players out there.”
All that was too much for the Vols, even with Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey (ankle) only playing a few snaps. Granted, Tennessee’s defense is just OK. The Vols entered the weekend ranked 29th nationally in ESPN’s defensive SP+ (efficiency adjusted for opponent and situation). Missouri gained seven yards per play during its 36-7 victory over Tennessee last weekend.
The Bulldogs have a better offense than Mizzou, so it wasn’t surprising that Beck and Co. also had a big day against the Vols. But it’s not as if Tennessee’s defense was inept. The Vols handled Georgia’s running game, and they often were in position to make plays against pass targets. It just didn’t matter because Beck was placing passes into tight spots.
Beck did it on a third-and-long completion to Brock Bowers the play before UGA’s first touchdown. He later delivered a pinpoint pass to Bowers for a 21-yard gain to the Vols’ 11-yard line, and again two plays later with a TD pass to Dillon Bell.
During UGA’s third TD drive, there was barely any room between Bell and a defender when Beck feathered a pass for a 21-yard gain on third-and-long. The Bulldogs earned a first-and-goal on that drive when Beck zipped a pass down the middle of the field to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint for a 34-yard gain.
Beck converted six third downs with passes. He also ran past the sticks twice on third downs. Eight different Georgia players caught passes from Beck, and six of those plays went for 20 yards or more.
Said Beck: “We’ve got so many guys that can make explosive plays and so many different guys can go out there and execute at a high level. Each week we’ve continued to show that and, obviously as a quarterback, I’m blessed.”
Beck is playing great, but truthfully, the Bulldogs have yet to face a team with a great defense this season. Auburn is the only one to rank in the top 25 of defensive SP+. Georgia labored to score 27 points against the Tigers. The resistance will increase in the postseason. Alabama ranks seventh in defensive SP+ and potential CFP foes Ohio State (third), Michigan (first) and Florida State (ninth) also are elite.
Those will be tough tests for Beck, but considering the way he’s playing, he’ll also be a challenge for them.
“Each defense is going to try to throw something different at us, whether it’s different pressures, different coverages,” Beck said. “But I would say that I’m seeing (the field) pretty well.”
Bennett left Georgia as the program’s best-ever quarterback. The offense is still rolling because Beck is good, too.