Georgia coach Kirby Smart could turn to tested QB Stetson Bennett with JT Daniels out

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Georgia turned to Stetson Bennett in relief of D'Wan Mathis in last season's opening game at Arkansas. Bennett could be the next man up at quarterback if JT Daniels' injury prevents him from playing in UGA's 2021 home opener. Michael Woods AP Photos

ATHENS — Stetson Bennett could start at quarterback for Georgia against UAB on Saturday with Kirby Smart in search of a “Plan B” for incumbent JT Daniels.

There have not been any announcements from Smart on Daniels’ status for the game, or who will start the game.

Daniels strained his oblique (side) muscle and is not expected to get the start for the Bulldogs in their 3:30 p.m. home-opening game against the Blazers (TV: ESPN2) at Sanford Stadium. A source close to the situation said it’s not a serious injury but it’s one that requires rest for proper healing.

Smart has said throughout fall camp that second-year player Carson Beck is Georgia’s No. 2 quarterback. Sources have said Beck, who has appeared in just one college game but has not thrown a pass, has taken a majority of the reps with the No. 1 offensive unit.

RELATED: What if Carson Beck gets his first start on Saturday

But Smart has said Bennett has gotten some work, too.

Bennett, unlike Beck, has a great deal of experience at the college level. Bennett had five starts and 10 games played under his belt last season.

Bennett staked Georgia out to a 14-0 lead in his most recent start against Florida before suffering a sprained AC joint in his shoulder in the first quarter. Bennett was ineffective upon returning to the game and trying to play with the injury, the Bulldogs losing 44-28.

Daniels took over as the starter for the final four games last season and had great success, achieving the highest passer rating in the nation among quarterbacks returning for the 2021 season.

Daniels was 22-of-30 passing for 135 yards and one interception against a salty Clemson defense in a 10-3 win last Saturday. Georgia could have scored more if not for a missed field goal and Smart’s decision to run out the clock at Clemson’s 12-yard line

While Daniels’ passing numbers appeared little more than efficient, he was successful checking down to run plays in key moments and executing on third downs (7 of 15).

UAB, like Clemson, has a very experienced defensive unit. The Blazers opened the season with a 31-0 shutout and return nine starters off a defense that ranked No. 7 in the nation in 2020.

“They do a tremendous job wreaking havoc on defense,” Smart said on his coaches’ show on Thursday night. “They have the ability to confuse you. Their defenses over the last five years have been ranked higher than Georgia’s and Clemson’s.”

Those factors would seem to make Bennett the safer play.

Beck has a stronger arm than Bennett, but also, he has shown a propensity to want to throw into tighter windows in scrimmages and practices.

With UAB’s experience in the secondary, and Georgia being without top receiving targets, the Bulldogs’ game plan would more likely be centered around a high percentage pass game and a powerful run game.

RELATED: Unsung run game will factor in regardless of JT Daniels’ status

RELATED: Kirby Smart updates injury status of Bulldogs’ top receivers

Smart was asked on his Thursday night show what things he would want to eliminate for this game, and he answered: “I want to eliminate our turnovers and explosive plays by them.”

Conventional wisdom suggests the only way the Blazers — a 24-point underdog — could beat UGA would be if the Bulldogs had multiple turnovers and gave UAB short fields to work with.

Smart was in a situation last season when Daniels was injured and couldn’t start the opener, and he went with a first-time starter in D’Wan Mathis.

Mathis faltered in his start at Arkansas and Bennett was brought in to rally the Bulldogs from behind.

RELATED: Game Ball goes to Stetson Bennett at Arkansas, ‘Mailman’ delivers

Smart might want to avoid risking making the same mistake again.

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