ATHENS — The three interceptions Stetson Bennett threw against Alabama were one thing, but there were other bad passes Kirby Smart said were just as concerning.
“I feel great about Stetson Bennett, he’s done a good job managing the situations we’ve put him in,” Smart said of the former walk-on and junior college quarterback on his Tuesday Zoom call, asked where Bennett could improve and if the redshirt junior was still the starter.
“He made a couple of bad decisions. Some of them he didn’t have to pay the dividend for it; He threw a couple of balls that he shouldn’t have thrown based on the coverage they gave us, but those weren’t necessarily the ones that got picked.”
Bennett was 18-of-40 passing for 269 yards with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Bennett ranks 8th in the SEC in QB rating and passing yardage, and 12th in the league in completion percentage.
The No 4-ranked Bulldogs (3-1) are off next Saturday, their game at Kentucky (2-2) moved back to Halloween Day on account of the SEC league office adjusting teams’ schedule to accommodate Florida’s COVID-19 issues.
Georgia doesn’t play the Gators until Nov. 7, when it will play a designated home game with Florida in Jacksonville.
Smart said UGA is using this week to work on itself, getting players healthy and allowing others to compete for playing time.
Bennett’s starting job figures to be on the line after his performance at Alabama.
“Sometimes you get batted balls and they get tipped and they get picked, (and) sometimes you throw a ball, you miss Jermaine (Burton) a little bit over the middle there, it’s a little bit out of his reach,” Smart said. “Maybe Jermaine gets his hands on it more, it’s just unfortunate they picked it.”
Bennett targeted Burton a team-high 11 times, the freshman coming down with four throws for 58 yards and a touchdown. George Pickens (7) and Kearis Jackson (7) were next on the most targeted list, Pickens making five catches for 53 yards, and Jackson two for 23.
James Cook caught four of five targets for 101 yards, and no one else on the team was thrown to more than once.
Smart wasn’t as upset by the three interceptions Bennett tossed to Alabama as other throws.
“The ones that don’t get picked concern me more when we throw into coverage and we had a couple of those,” Smart said. “So it’s one of those things. He’s done a really good job of executing on third down. He hit some guys that have dropped some balls on third down. We’ve become a third down team since he’s been in there. We’ve got to continue to improve on that. Everybody around him has to continue to improve.”
The first interception occurred at the line of scrimmage when a defensive lineman got his hands up, denying the Bulldogs an opportunity to cash in on Richard LeCounte’s interception on the Tide’s opening drive.
Bennett is generously listed at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds on the roster, and he had five passes batted or tipped at the line of scrimmage in the 41-24 loss to the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide last Saturday.
Smart rejected the notion that the tipped passes at the line were solely the result of Bennett’s lack of height.
“You look across the league in the NFL, college football, height is not the greatest indicator of batted balls,” Smart said. “It’s the pocket, and a lot of that comes from experience, and he’s gaining experience. He’s not elite in experience, he doesn’t have a ton of it.”
Smart said Georgia has been working with Bennett on growing more comfortable and efficient using the pocket.
“We do a lot of drills in practice to simulate the pocket where you have to step up and through it,” Smart said. “I think that’s one of the things Jake (Fromm) was really good at. He could fill the pocket and step up in the pocket in either run or throw. And we continue to work with Stetson on that.
“He’s shown the ability to do that. He didn’t always trust it Saturday and he’s done a good job of that. He’s got good pass protectors around him.”
Alabama’s halftime adjustments seem to take a toll on Bennett, who was 6-of-15 passing for 92, yards and two interceptions over the final 30 minutes.
Smart indicated on the call that D’Wan Mathis and JT Daniels would be getting more work with the offense this week than they would during a game week, lending credence to the notion that there’s competition at the quarterback job as well as the other positions during the off week.
“This week we’ll get to get a lot of guys reps;. JT will get reps, D’Wan will get reps, Stetson will continue to get reps,” Smart said.
“We try to develop our roster is the way we look at it. It doesn’t change, it just gives us a chance to give more guys work and see where they are in their progress and that’s true at every position including quarterback.”