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(Walt Beazley/UGA)
Stetson Bennett threw 2 touchdown passes in the win against Arkansas.

Georgia football winners and losers from season-opening win against Arkansas

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Georgia football winners and losers from 37-10 win over Arkansas

Winner: Stetson Bennett

For all the talk and hype about Jamie Newman, JT Daniels and D’Wan Mathis, very little was said about Bennett. That wasn’t the case after junior saved the day against Arkansas, coming off the bench to throw for 211, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion with his legs.

Not bad for a guy who had to leave Georgia after the 2017 season to go try and find playing time at the JUCO levels.

“That value of playing that season is immense in terms of getting reps than he came here and took every single rep for an entire year behind Jake Fromm as the 2,” Kirby Smart said of Bennett’s experience. “So we knew and we felt comfortable with what we had in Stetson in terms of all his reps he had taken.”

When Bennett left to go play at Jones College in Ellisville, Miss., he didn’t expect he’d end up back at Georgia. But when he signed as a member of Georgia’s 2019 class, he maintained that he was always ready for whenever his number would be called.

Related: Stetson Bennett IV: The ‘poor dirt farm boy’ story about Arkansas you haven’t heard yet

Georgia is lucky that he was just that on Saturday to lead the Bulldogs to a win.

Loser: The first half offense

The Georgia offense was much talked about during the offseason. It brought in two transfer quarterbacks in Jamie Newman and JT Daniels. There was a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken. Add in the new skill talent to go on top of all the recruiting talent the Bulldogs had stockpiled in recent years.

After the first half, the discussion around the Georgia offense changed drastically. For all the new additions, it still looked like the ineffective unit that slogged through the second half of the 2019 season.

The unit had just five points going into the third quarter. And for all that could be made about D’Wan Mathis starting his first career, it wasn’t all on him. The team had 11 first-half penalties for 98 yards. The Georgia running backs had 12 carries for 27 yards in the opening 30 minutes.

“Today just wasn’t his day. He didn’t have a great day. Some of it was what they were doing, some of it was what we were doing, so not all of it (fault) was his,” Smart said in defense of Mathis.

Related: Kirby Smart defends D’Wan Mathis, explains how Georgia offense failed young QB

With a matchup against No. 7 Auburn this week, the Georgia offense cannot afford to be that bad once again. The Bulldogs talked about how they need to play complementary football. Georgia has to get more out of its offense to help out the stout Georgia defense.

Winner: Scott Cochran

For all the concern about Monken and the unit he’d be coordinating, it’s hard to imagine having a better debut than new special teams coordinator Scott Cochran.

In just about every facet of special teams, Georgia excelled. New kicker Jack Podlensy converted on all of his field goals and extra points. Kenny McIntosh had kickoff returns of 48 yards and 43 yards, setting up the Bulldogs with great field position.

Punter Jake Camarda pinned five of his seven punts inside the 20, with only one resulting in a touchback. The Bulldogs also averaged 19.0 yards per punt return between Kearis Jackson and Tyrique Stevenson, though one of those was called back.

To top it all off, Zamir White blocked a punt.

Smart took a risk in bringing Cochran and asking him to do something he’d never done before in serving as the team’s special teams coordinator. But the Arkansas game was a positive first effort for Cochran and the Bulldogs.

Loser: Teams with College Football Playoff aspirations 

Georgia certainly fits into this category. While Georgia did come away with a 27-point, the first half was an alarming start to the season. But at least the Bulldogs won, which could not be said for some of the other teams in the Top-10 this weekend.

Oklahoma gave up a 35-14 lead to Kansas State to lose. LSU, the defending national champions, allowed KJ Costello to throw for 623 yards as Mississippi State and new head coach Mike Leach pulled out a 44-34 win. Texas needed an onside kick and overtime to beat Texas Tech. Even Florida gave up over 600 yards of offense, though the Gators did score 51 points in the win.

With all the uncertainty week to week as well as a shortened preseason practice period, it makes sense for some teams to struggle. But with many top teams struggling to start the year, it could set up for a fascinating and wild ride throughout the year.

Winner: Nolan Smith

The Georgia defense on a whole had a stellar game. The secondary snared three interceptions, with two of them going to Richard LeCounte.

The Bulldogs held Arkansas to just 77 rushing yards, including limiting Rakeem Boyd to just 21 rushing yards on 11 carries.

As for the Georgia pass rush, Smith had a strong debut coming away with 1.5 sacks. On the first one, he teamed up with Nakobe Dean and Julian Rochester to stop a promising drive and hold the Razorbacks to a field goal.

He added a full sack on Arkansas’ final defensive possession of the game. Georgia will need to continue to pressure the passer in the coming weeks, especially against the likes of Auburn’s Bo Nix and Alabama’s Mac Jones.

But Smith now has more sacks against SEC foes in one game as a sophomore than he did in his entire freshman season. If the Bulldogs can get continued production like that out of the former 5-star prospect, it won’t have too many questions about the pass rush over the course of the season.

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