AUBURN, Ala. — Bryan Harsin’s job is to find a way to beat Stetson Bennett next Saturday, but on Monday he was defending the Georgia quarterback.
When a Birmingham television reporter began a question by suggesting Bennett was “obviously not the most athletic guy in the world,” Harsin made his stance clear.
“I’m not sure Stetson would say that; he’s a good player, (and) I’m impressed with him,” Harsin, once a collegiate quarterback himself, said at his Monday press conference in the Auburn Athletic Complex.
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“There are guys that are bigger and more athletic, but I was fortunate to coach a guy that wasn’t very athletic but won more games than any college quarterback ever, and they said the same thing about him,” said Harsin, who was Boise State’s OC and QB coach when Kellen Moore was putting together a 50-3 run as the Broncos starting quarterback.
“(Bennett) is a winner, he makes plays, he’s plenty fast enough to run the ball, he’s plenty fast enough to scramble around and make plays,” he said. “He finds the open receivers, he’s accurate, and he manages their offense really well.”
Harsin, whose Auburn Tigers play at No. 2-ranked Georgia at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday, got a full dose of Bennett last season at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Bennett was 14-of-21 passing for 231 yards with 2 touchdowns and rushed six times for 41 yards including a 30-yard scamper in UGA’s 34-10 win.
“I don’t see a whole lot of weaknesses in his game,” Harsin said. “I think he has command of what they are doing, and he’s plenty good enough to hurt you in all the ways.”
Bennett ranks sixth in the SEC and 37th in the nation in passing efficiency (154.58) this season, coming off one of his rougher outings.
“He missed some throws tonight, and I think he’d be the first to tell you he didn’t play his best game,” Kirby Smart said. “That’s not all Stetson’s fault. That’s some of my fault, putting a lot on him on the road.”
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Harsin, meanwhile, is coming off a 21-17 loss to LSU that saw the Tigers’ defense fare relatively well keeping the Bayou Bengals’ dual-threat quarterback from having too much success.
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Senior quarterback Jayden Daniels, a transfer from Arizona State, was 8-of-20 passing for 80 yards and had 16 carries for 59 yards and a TD before being knocked out of the game.
Auburn had to work to keep Daniels contained, just as Harsin suggested it will have to do to prevent Bennett from making the sort of big plays he proved capable of in wins over Oregon (49-3) and South Carolina (48-6).
“You have to do a great job in coverage and a great job of trying to pressure the quarterback,” Harsin said. “And you to do a great job when he scrambles, and you have to play the entire play with him.”
Missouri brought a great deal of pressure and played tight coverage on the receivers, challenging Georgia to win one-on-one battles and Bennett to quickly find open receivers.
Harsin made it clear that defenses can’t give Bennett, who is 19-3 as a starter, time to make plays, or he will find great success.
“If you are going to let off him, he will take advantage of that,” Harsin said. “You have to play the entire play against a quarterback like him.”
Georgia is a 28-point favorite over Auburn, which has held double-digit leads in each of its past five SEC losses over the past two seasons.
The Tigers have used three quarterbacks this season, and Harsin announced Texas A&M transfer QB Zach Calzada is undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.
Robby Ashford, a redshirt freshman transfer from Oregon, will be making his third career start at Georgia.
Quarterbacks with the most wins as a starter:
• Kellen Moore 50-3, Boise State (2008-11)
• Colt McCoy Texas 45-8
• Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati 44-6
• Andy Dalton TCU 42-7
• David Greene Georgia 42-10
• Peyton Manning Tennessee 39-6
• Jalen Hurts, Alabama/Oklahoma 38-4
• Matt Leinart USC 37-2
• Jake Fromm Georgia 37-5
• Marcus Mariota Oregon 36-5
• Trevor Lawrence, Clemson 34-2