FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken has coached a national championship quarterback before in the NFL, and he believes he’s coaching one now in the form of Stetson Bennett at Georgia.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we can win the national championship, and there’s no doubt in my mind we can win it with Stetson Bennett,” Monken said on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with reporters, defending head coach Kirby Smart’s decision to roll with the former walk-on.
Daniels dealt out
JT Daniels was the Bulldogs starting quarterback once healthy last season and throughout the offseason, exiting SEC Media Days in July as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Daniels, however, suffered an upper-body injury in the preseason that lingered and eventually sidelined him in September, opening the door for Bennett to assume the position.
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Monken has explained that Bennett has played so well that Daniels hasn’t had an opportunity to reclaim the position he lost due to injury.
“If you look at the plays (Bennett has) made, he’s made national championship plays — he has,” Monken said. “You just turn on the film and look at some of the throws he makes, some of the decisions he makes, the things he does with his feet.”
The NFL scouts and draft analysts aren’t seeing or saying the same things, but Monken, who coached former Florida State QB Jameis Winston in the NFL, toed the company line at the CFP-mandated press conference.
Monken on hot seat
To Monken’s credit, he attempted to answer questions about the quarterbacks that Smart has stubbornly refused to delve into all season, even if his rationale was a bit flawed where the SEC Championship Game was concerned.
“We went into the (SEC) championship game with Stetson Bennett at quarterback as a favorite, over a team that hadn’t been an underdog in five years,” Monken said. “That ought to tell you a lot about our quarterback and how he played.”
The Bulldogs’ defense, it’s worth noting, allowed just 6.9 points per game in the regular season, and the offense often wasn’t asked to do much.
And, while Georgia went into the game as a favorite, it came out a 41-24 loser after Bennett was intercepted twice and produced just 7 points on six possessions in the second half, including a game-sealing Pick 6.
Monken said he’s confident that Daniels will be ready if needed when Georgia plays Michigan in the Orange Bowl CFP Semifinal at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Daniels, who had been quarantined after a short bout with COVID, arrived on Monday night after attending all of the QB meetings virtually, Monken said. At the very least, Daniels gives Georgia an option should Bennett get injured or fall behind far enough.
Stetson locks it down
“It’s really nothing that JT did, and it just happened where Stetson got an opportunity,” Monken explained, asked why the coaches changed their decision on which quarterback was better suited to run the team. " It never really ended up flipping the other way … It never went back the other way, when JT got a chance to get in there.”
Monken would not answer when asked about two instances when it seemed Daniels would have gotten another chance at the position.
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Most recently, Smart said the coaches didn’t even discuss putting Daniels in the SEC title game once down 38-17 after Bennett’s Pick-6.
It was an instance where Georgia needed bunches of points and in a hurry, and the sort of quick-strike approach the transfer from Southern Cal had produced while running up a 7-0 record including a double-digit fourth-quarter comeback against Cincinnati last season.
Monken dodges it
Monken also didn’t elaborate when asked why there wasn’t more of a quarterback competition after Bennett struggled with a 10-of-19, two-interception passing performance against Florida this season.
Georgia was struggling against the Gators with a 3-0 lead late in the first half before the defense produced three quick turnovers that led to 21 points in the final 2 1/2 minutes of the second quarter.
Monken said Bennett’s “body of work” carried him through the poor performances, and he echoed Smart’s sentiment about how Bennett is proving people wrong and suggested outsiders aren’t evaluating the quarterbacks fairly.
“Some reason we get into this stereotyping of players based on where they were at some point, one was a walk-on, one was a five-star,” Monken said. “If you just look ta the production and what he’s done for our football team, it’s impressive.”
Indeed, so much so that Monken indicated Bennett proved him and his years of expertise coaching at the college and the NFL level wrong for choosing Daniels ahead of him.
“I think Stetson at times — I’m talking about me — probably undervalued his skillset,” Monken said. “We’ve tried to elevate guys that have talent on our roster and we do that at every position.
“And some guys just combat that and fight and scratch and continue to play well prove you wrong, and that’s what Stetson Bennett did.”