Georgia coach Kirby Smart rides Stetson Bennett hard on the field, but he says many nice things about him off the field and has named him the starting quarterback for 2022.
Jeff Sentell /DawgNation

Georgia QB Stetson Bennett understands, responds to tough coaching

ATHENS — Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, Mac Jones …. Stetson Bennett.

Bennett might be the most overlooked national championship quarterback in recent years, as Kirby Smart suggested at SEC Media Days this summer, but he certainly gets his share of attention from the Georgia coaching staff.

That won’t change this week with the Bulldogs slated to open fall drills on Thursday.

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Georgia looks to repeat as East Division champs, capture what would be the program’s first SEC championship since 2017, and win another national championship.

Quarterback play could be more important than ever with eight players off last season’s record-breaking defense selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, five of them first-rounders.

Smart and offensive coordinator Todd Monken have talked a great deal about their confidence in Bennett at most every media opportunity they have been afforded, even as league pundits continue to underlook him.

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“Sometimes you suck and you have to get better. Gives you some sense of urgency.”

That’s what happened in the national championship game when Bennett struggled to get the offense going through three quarters and nearly fumbled the game away.

RELATED: Kirby Smart shares halftime message he gave Stetson Bennett

Bennett’s turnover at the Georgia 16-yard line with 11:35 left in the game led to Alabama’s only touchdown of the night and put the Tide back in front, 18-13.

Bennett responded by going 4-4 passing for 83 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the night, with two other passes intended for Jermaine Burton and George Pickens leading to first downs via pass interference penalties.

Bennett was 13-of-22 passing for 141 yards and no TDs through the first three quarters before turning it up a notch with a championship on the line.

Monken, now a $2 million a year coordinator, knew what to dial up in the clutch, and Bennett knew it was only a matter of him needing to execute with the game on the line

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The genius was in the details, Bennett explained.

“It’s his ability to be so anal about the details, good lord, he’s intense, but I love it,” Bennett said of Monken. “That’s how you run an offense: it’s timing, zone and spacing.

“It’s all about those little details that if. You don’t know the game, then you miss.”

When Bennett has missed, Monken’s sharp tongue has lit him up on the practice field and in the postgame, reinforcing the high standards needed to win championships.

Monken’s quest for perfection has led JT Daniels and Bennett to record the highest passer ratings in school history, surpassing All-time SEC passing leader Aaron Murray.

Daniels, now at West Virginia, posted a 178.49 rating that was the highest among returning quarterbacks entering the 2021 season.

Bennett, who took over the offense after Daniels was injured in the fourth game of last season, posted a 176.7 rating and was the Offensive MVP of the Orange Bowl and CFP Championship Game.

“You’ve done it 50 times, but the 51st time has to be the same as you did it the 20th,” Bennett said, commenting on the consistency Monken demands.

“You have to be consistent and detailed. We the quarterbacks, the skill position guy,s have to be on the same page, quarterbacks and offensive line. That’s what he does well.”

RELATED: Kirby Smart compares Stetson Bennett to Notre Dame’s ‘Rudy’

Bennett said he worked on his footwork in the offseason, looking to become more versatile in the passing game and operate better out of the pocket and on non-play-action throws.

Bennett ranked 60th among 65 Power 5 quarterbacks in turnover-worthy plays on throws that were not off play-action or of the screen variety, per PFF.

But on play-action, Bennett was deadly with throws to the likes of All-American tight end Brock Bowers and speedy receivers Burton, A.D. Mitchell and Ladd McConkey.

Bennett led Power 5 quarterbacks with 12.8 yards per attempt on play-action last season, and he ranked second in the SEC in passer rating.

“I worked a lot on my footwork, timing up my drops on different plays, (and) being more secure in the pocket,” Bennett said. “Just mental lapses that happened sometimes last year — just avoiding those.”

RELATED: Kirby Smart challenges Bennett to grow as a leader

Smart and Monken both declared Bennett the starting quarterback early in the offseason, seeing to it he received the vast majority of the reps in spring drills.

Smart confirmed Bennett has “done everything we’ve asked” during the offseason, a sign the Bulldogs are positioned for another championship run.

More will be asked of Bennett this fall, and the Georgia coaches will be watching closely again in camp, ready to push Bennett in a way that ensures he’s ready to deliver again when the going gets tough this season.

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