ATHENS — Believe it or not, Stetson Bennett has thrown a pass-attempt in an SEC championship game before.
Jake Fromm briefly left the 2019 game against LSU after taking a hit. In came Bennett in for just one drive.
“Whenever I saw Fromm go down, I just sprinted to my helmet, picked it up and felt this giant shock of lightning,” Bennett said. “‘Well I’m about to go into the SEC championship game.’” Wasn’t expecting that. I think it’ll be a little different.”
Bennett fired an incomplete pass attempt in the 37-10 loss to the eventual national championship-winning Tigers.
He’ll enter Saturday’s game against Alabama as the clear-cut starter for the Bulldogs. Bennett started the last eight games for the Bulldogs, leading Georgia to a 12-0 record. At times JT Daniels was the starting quarterback for Georgia, but since he suffered a lat injury against Vanderbilt it has been all Bennett.
Saturday’s game for Bennett represents a chance to completely rewrite the narrative around him. From walk-on to potential SEC champion.
And he’ll get to do so against an Alabama team he’s seen before.
“The true definition of resiliency right there. He was here, went to JUCO, came back,” teammate Jordan Davis said. “Coming from a walk-on to leading us to the conference championship and more. It seems like one of those 30 for 30s, his story. He just goes out there and works. It’s one of those things we just admire.”
Last year’s Alabama game demonstrated that not all stories have happy endings, as Bennett had his worst game of the 2020 season. He was intercepted three times while completing 18 of his 40 pass attempts. Georgia held a 24-20 lead in the game, but the Bulldogs were shut out in the second half and lost 41-24. Alabama went on to win the national championship.
This year, Bennett is an undeniably better quarterback. He’s completing 65 percent of his passes with an average of 10.8 yards per attempt. He’s also cleaned up his touchdown-to-interception ratio, tossing 21 touchdown passes to just 5 interceptions.
“Better mechanics, better understanding of the game, another year in the offense under (Todd) Monken, more trust in everybody that’s out there,” Bennett said on the difference between 2021 and 2020. “You know, just all the things that time brings.”
He’s also an improved running threat, especially compared to that of Daniels. That’s something the Alabama defense seems to be very aware of.
“He’s very fast. He has great feet. He can escape the pocket really well,” Alabama linebacker Will Anderson said. “He can move sideline to sideline. I think the biggest thing right now is we have to keep maintaining the pocket. We can’t let him run all over the field and make long drives with his feet.”
All those experiences have helped shape Bennett. From emulating Baker Mayfield ahead of the 2018 Rose Bowl to leaving the Georgia program for a JUCO opportunity. He’s become the starting quarterback for the No. 1 team in the country. More than that, he’s a leader for the Bulldogs.
Bennett’s experience and maturity have clearly helped him this season. He’s talked about making the smart play. He’s learned he doesn’t need to scramble around on a third and 6 and throw it directly to an Alabama defender.
“That’s the number one thing that Stetson has been able to grow from, is looking back at that game,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “It’s a critical piece to every game, is that player at that position makes so many decisions during the game that the outcome is usually affected a lot by the quarterbacks that play the game.”
The pieces around Bennett are also better this season. Georgia just got George Pickens back this week and Brock Bowers has developed into one of the best tight ends in the country. The offensive line gave up the fewest number of sacks in the SEC and James Cook and Zamir White are certainly capable running backs.
With all the talent around Bennett, he knows he doesn’t have to do much. He just has to make the one or two key winning plays that the likes of Aaron Murray, Jake Fromm and other quarterbacks haven’t been able to make against Alabama.
“Incompletions don’t kill you and you don’t have to win on every play and you can’t win it on every play,” Bennett said. “With our defense and the players we have, just focusing on the strength of our team and not trying to do it all yourself.”
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett talks playing Alabama
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