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Stetson Bennett leaves Kentucky behind stressing offensive improvement

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) looks to pass during the second quarter against the Kentucky Wildcats of an NCAA football game at Kroger Field, Saturday, November 19, 2022, in Lexington, Kentucky. Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

ATHENS — Stetson Bennett left Kentucky with a message for himself and his offensive teammates: Improvement is needed.

Bennett talked about the team’s short-yardage struggles and the interception he threw after the 16-6 win over the Wildcats in Lexington.

“We haven’t been winning those matchups on third-and-1 — 1 (-yard) to go at the goal,” Bennett said, referring to Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton being stopped at the Kentucky 1-yard line on third- and fourth-down plays with UGA up 16-0.

“We’ve got to win those matchups, we got to start doing better there.”

Bennett, a sixth-year senior who will be playing his final game in Sanford Stadium when the Bulldogs play host to Georgia Tech at noon on Saturday, also knows he needs to play better.

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Bennett was 13-of-19 for a season-low 119 yards along with an interception on a pass he said shouldn’t have been thrown.

“I’ve got to see that safety, I can’t just throw that ball,” Bennett said of his interception. “I just didn’t see the guy. I have to make sure I see or don’t throw it.”

Kentucky narrowly missed out on a Pick-6 in the third quarter on the cold and windy day, and UGA essentially shut down its passing game from that point on, running the ball 17 of the next 18 plays.

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Bennett has thrown five interceptions over the past four games, but as coach Kirby Smart says, that can happen at the quarterback position.

But Bennett, like his head coach, seemed more focused on the Bulldogs getting better touchdown production once inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

“Red Zone, got to be better at that,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to be better at third-and-1, fourth-and-1, goal to go from the one.”

RELATED: Kirby Smart talks about Red Zone issues entering Kentucky game

Smart lectured UGA broadcaster Scott Howard on his coaches’ show last week about Red Zone offense being one of the team’s weak points despite the Bulldogs being ranked No. 1 per NCAA stats.

“It just shows you stats are wrong, because that’s not the way we look at it,” Smart said, dismissing the NCAA’s system of ranking teams on the percentage of times they score inside the opponents’ 20-yard line without differentiating between field goals and touchdowns.

“Red Zone opportunities are how many times you score a touchdown in the red area, because it’s really a failure if you kick a field goal,” Smart said. “That stat is misleading because we have a lot of times we kick field goals and that’s not a successful trip.

“So the Red Zone touchdown percentage is a much better stat that’s reflective of what we want to be really good at, and I think we’re 26th or 27th in the country at Red Zone TD percentage.”

Georgia entered the game having scored touchdowns on 39 of 56 Red Zone trips but was just one of four on Saturday.

Smart had talked about the Red Zone issues all the way back to the start of the season and harped on it more in October, seeing the same issues back then.

“If it all had to boil down to one thing, I would say accuracy in the passing game,” Smart said earlier this season. “And then being effective at running the ball at the heavy boxes.”

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