COLUMBIA, S.C. — Stetson Bennett will turn 25 years old next month, a grown man among boys in many respects, with many seasons behind him.
It’s one of many advantages No. 1-ranked Georgia has entering into its game at South Carolina at noon on Saturday (TV: ESPN).
Coach Kirby Smart recently explained how the Bulldogs are using high-percentage passes to serve as runs — “long handoffs” as OC Todd Monken calls them — to make Bennett’s job that much easier.
“Why toss the ball on the perimeter when you could run the ball up the middle or toss the ball on the perimeter, which becomes a screen (pass) or an RPO,” Smart explained.
“So if you have the option of doing both, you give the quarterback the option of taking the best option based on the look of the defense.”
That’s where the chess game begins, and where Bennett’s experience — this will be his 20th start — really takes effect.
South Carolina defensive coordinator Clayton White explained the challenge the Gamecocks’ defense has to disguise its fronts and coverages.
“I know the games he has played in, and the defense he’s gone against in practice as well as games,” White said. “It’s going to be hard to disguise against him, but you still have to do it to make him work.”
White said a player with Bennett’s experience understands how fronts connect with coverages.
It will take more than just showing a blitz from one direction, and the coming from the other, and moving safeties around pre-snap.
To boot, Bennett has the mobility to make defenses pay if they don’t assign a defender to “spy” him as well.
It’s one more reason why Smart is bullish on playing a running quarterback over a pocket passer.
“Most plays we defend now the whole field is used: there’s an option to throw a fade (deep pass) to this guy, a screen (outside) to this guy, or hand the ball off to this guy,” Smart said.
“That’s three options on one play, and the quarterback has the option of changing that play, so there’s a lot more to defend.
“A quarterback who is a really good athlete and can run the ball, that gives you a fourth option, … and when you have one like Stetson who is very intelligent and can handle all of those things and can run, then you’re talking about being hard to defend.”
Indeed, Georgia has opened as one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, No. 2 in the SEC in passing.
Bennett leads SEC quarterbacks with 12 pass plays that have gone for 20 yards or more, but he has yet to have a pass play of 40 yards or longer.
All White can do is hope his Gamecocks can cross up Bennett, because if the experienced UGA quarterback makes the right reads, there will be open players and leveraged runs.
“We can be multiple,” White said, “and be more multiple against a running quarterback type of team, and a power running team like Georgia.”
It might not seem like much, but trying to keep Bennett off-balance is the best bet for a South Carolina team that will be out-manned in most every individual matchup against the talented, experience offense Smart has built.