Stetson Bennett IV-Georgia football-UGA football
Georgia QB Stetson Bennett IV throws against Oregon on September 3, 2022, inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)

Watch out critics: That superb Stetson Bennett 2022 debut points right at you

DawgNation has two dedicated staff writers in the press box for every Georgia football game. That’s Mike Griffith and Connor Riley. We also have a guy on the field. There is usually much more to be seen than just what shows up in the viewfinder of his camera lens.


Georgia won a big football game on Saturday despite only having Stetson Benett IV at quarterback.

Blah blah blahh. Yada yada yada.

The 24-year-old from Blackshear went hunting to put that sad and tired 2021 narrative to bed on Saturday. Bennett came out of the blind with a new one for this season.

It will work for not only certain highborn folks but all of college football: Georgia beat the nation’s No. 11 team by 46 points because it had Stetson Bennett IV at quarterback.

Try that on. It fits as snugly as he held the remote control of the Todd Monken offense against the Ducks. Bennett powered Georgia to a 9 of 10 showing on third down tries. He completed 25 of his 31 attempts for 368 yards and two scores.

When asked if it was his best career game as a ‘Dawg, Bennett said he thought so.

“The Mailman” also offered a Houdini escape act highlight that could be a precursor for Georgia folks evolving that #JD2NYC hashtag to a #SB2NYC line for 2022.

Bennett looked the part of a sixth-year returning senior national champion QB on Saturday. Maybe even a Heisman Watch List QB to boot.

There weren’t a lot of deep balls yesterday. I can recall him missing Ladd McConkey on one deep shot, but the rest of that stat line looked like a Georgia peach at the county fair. He converted every third down and his passing line was perfect in the face of every blitz.

There was a drop. He also threw a couple of balls away. Not too shabby for Georgia’s new holder.

It brought to my mind the classic 1990s sci-fi fantasy thriller “The Matrix” on Saturday. It wasn’t because of that Houdini act on his scramble TD pass to McConkey.

It was because Neo had a confidence problem. He couldn’t bend the spoon like the other 5-star QBs in the room. The movie has kids and prodigies lining up to see The Oracle.

But that now reminds me of a bunch of former 5-star QBs. Not lines of code.

Remember that part where Morpheus told Neo about the differences between knowing the path and walking the path?

Stetson walked the path on Saturday.

Much has been made of him finally getting first-team reps as “The Guy” for Georgia all off-season. That has certainly helped, but not as much as that frigid January night in Indianapolis.

The feeling here is taking down Alabama and playing the way he did has given him all the confidence in the world to play past every perceived ceiling of his ability. This Monken offense will allow him to do that.

Maybe he will bend all the spoons this season. Maybe he could still care less about spoons or what anyone thinks.

Stetson Bennett believes in himself. He’s always believed.

It is past time for everybody else out there to believe, too.

Did you know the weekly "Before the Hedges" program is available as an Apple podcast? Click to check it out and download it.

Georgia QB Stetson Bennett IV throws against Oregon on September 3, 2022, inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

Some quick-hit things of importance to this reporter

What does a journalist notice down at the field level when he’s not taking pictures? Lots of stuff like ...

  • I’ve never seen Darnell Washington as happy or confident at Georgia as he was on Saturday. It was all through the day. The team walk-through the Home Depot backyard. Warmups. The game. Postgame. He has the look of a man that has put in the work for what lies ahead of him. There are a lot of great things ahead of him.
  • My eyes did think to deceive me, Part I: Why yes, that was Kenny McIntosh, Branson Robinson and Malaki Starks catching punts in pregame on Saturday.
  • My eyes did think to deceive me, Part II: Did everyone else see that Georgia had Jalen Carter, Darnell Washington and Nolan Smith out on the kickoff return team on Saturday? What an amazing flex of talent that was.
  • Scheme shift? It was pointed out to me that Georgia’s defense did something different on Saturday. My charge was to figure out what that was. What I first noticed was that Kelee Ringo moved around a lot. The ‘Dawgs flipped their cornerbacks to the field and boundary sides. I want to see if that becomes something for the whole season. Giving Kamari Lassiter the role of field corner versus the boundary corner was very interesting. It makes me wonder what might happen there when Georgia faces a first or second-day NFL talent at receiver down the road.
  • Scheme and role versatility: Pop quiz time. Who do you think is the most versatile defender on the Georgia team? Javon Bullard? Malaki Starks? Jalen Carter? Xavian Sorey? I’d agree with any of those answers at this point in time. But I think the long-term answer is going to be Starks. That kid just has it.
  • Nolan Smith is the guy for this team: The former No. 1 overall prospect means everything to this team and this defense. He’s like a nuclear power plant of energy before games. Calling out and hyping up and energizing his team. If he ever gets mic’ed up, the content to come out of that would be very entertaining.
  • Much improved player: While the ‘Dawgs did not get the commitment of the 5-star safety they wanted in the 2023 class, it looks like they will be able to offset the loss for that position with the development of sophomore David Daniel-Sisavanh. He had four tackles in largely reserve duty and showed great instincts for the position.
  • Breakthrough for Milton: That was an important game for Kendall Milton’s career. If he can provide what he did on Saturday for the bulk of the season, that tandem with Kenny McIntosh will be special. The Bulldogs might even be worthy of all the high hopes that the majority of the fan base has for them right now. He had one career touchdown in his two previous seasons at UGA and doubled that with the first game of his junior season.
  • Box score superlatives: I won’t waste anyone’s time with what Kenny McIntosh did as a receiver. That’s in all the game stories. Did you see where freshman Malaki Starks led the team in tackles? He had eight and another team-high five solo stops to go along with the interception the state won’t stop talking about for a while. Then there was Chris Smith II. What is it about him and season openers? When he committed to UGA, he was the only person in the 2018 class aside from punter Jake Camarda. Smith had two Georgia Fathead posters on his bedroom walls and was just a 3-star recruit. Ranked as the nation’s No. 41 CB. As now a two-year core starter, he has far outplayed that ranking.
  • Feels like UGA has figured something else out: Mike Bobo. Bryan McClendon. Will Muschamp. Stacy Searels. When we stop and take a look at those recent infusions to the Georgia staff, we see something at work. Great coaches. Big ties to Georgia. Men who made a name at Georgia and left. They are all back. Ready to guide a roster that fills out like the Death Star minus the tricky exhaust ports. Men who largely know recruiting is the life’s blood of a program. This is the best overall staff Smart has assembled at Georgia. For a lot of reasons. Having men like that that played and coached at Georgia, left and are now back in Athens will serve the program well in this new NIL-crazy world.
Georgia senior EDGE Nolan Smith (Jeff Sentell/ DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
Georgia senior EDGE Nolan Smith (Jeff Sentell/ DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

Georgia’s offensive line has never looked better

Searels has assembled a unit that seems upgraded for so many reasons. Did you see Warren McClendon at left tackle against Oregon? With Amarius Mims at right tackle?

There was a point in the game where the line from left to right went McClendon, Xavier Truss, Sedrick Van Pran-Granger, Devin Willock and Mims. It looks like Truss and Willock can play both guard spots.

Then Warren Ericson got his share of reps, too. He started 14 games for the national champions last fall. He can play center or guard and is now a part of a very talented rotation.

Broderick Jones yet is so much better. So are McClendon and Van Pran-Granger. Program stalwarts Jamaree Salyer and Justin Shaffer will be dearly missed.

But I feel like this rotation of Tate Ratledge, Willock and Truss is going to make the ‘Dawgs better in 2022. The line is already much bigger and imposing.

The three returning starters from 2021 are obviously a year better. Bigger. Stronger. Technique better. Truss and Willock look like California redwoods out there.

Truss got his second career start at guard. He is 6 feet, 7 inches and 330 pounds. He signed in the 2019 class. Willock is 6 feet, 7 inches and 335 pounds. He signed in 2020 and is primed for his first batch of real playing time in 2022.

Think about that for a second. Those two would have started on almost every line in the SEC at least a year ago. If not two years ago.

When the ‘Dawgs station Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington on the edges to block on the perimeter, it really is a wall. Good. Luck. Getting. Through. All. That. Humanity.

Football will forever be a team game. Those big men up front allowed Bennett to play so spectacularly on Saturday.

Georgia redshirt junior OL Xavier Truss (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
Georgia sophomore OT Amarius Mims (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
Check out Georgia's starting OL against Oregon. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

Crazy talk: I’m just going to say this here

Connor Riley and I were having a discussion on a juicy topic last week. What was said then certainly resonates now.

I believe this Georgia football team will be better than the team that finished the 2021 season as national champions. Will it win it all again? Well, that remains to be seen.

What makes a veteran reporter say that? Did he get run over on the sidelines on Saturday night?

The feeling came to me in spite of several things. I know Georgia will not have a defensive tackle better than Jordan Davis in 2022. Or even Devont’e Wyatt.

The ‘Dawgs won’t have a better linebacker than Nakobe Dean. Or Quay Walker. Or probably even Channing Tindall. They won’t have a single safety better than Lewis Cine.

Those truths are all no-brainers.

That said, the rest of the Georgia football team is better in 2022. It really is.

Bennett is better. Clearly. George Pickens didn’t contribute but for a handful of snaps in both Alabama games and against Michigan. This team doesn’t have a Pickens-type talent at WR. But the 2021 champs didn’t really deploy one either.

The safety position will be better in 2022 because Dan Jackson and Chris Smith II are both better than they were a year ago. Cine was a special player and a first-round pick, but we will one day say the same things about Starks. That No. 24 on the field at least evens the scales with the 2021 safety group.

The tight ends are all back save for sneaky good John FitzPatrick. The belief here is that Oscar Delp and Arik Gilbert will offset that loss. Bowers and Washington are going to be clearly better.

If you feel that Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards can equate what James Cook and Zamir White gave the ‘Dawgs at running back in 2021, then this offense really has something.

We’ll also get to see guys like Jalen Carter, Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Smael Mondon and Mykel Williams continue to get better as they gain more experience getting coached up week to week.

That core in the middle of the defense still won’t be better than the 2021 team.

But every other part of this team will.

The fun part will be just watching it all unfold.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

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