Georgia’s defense deserves a lot of the credit in the win, they played exceptionally well to keep the Bulldogs in game, although backup quarterback Stetson Bennett also deserves a lot of the praise, too.
The fourth-year junior showed poise and composure after taking over for D’Wan Mathis with 10:07 left to go in the first half. That coaching decision by Kirby Smart proved not to be costly as Georgia ended up winning the contest handily.
Still, after the game Smart did not seem too happy with his team after Georgia’s 37-10 win against Arkansas in Fayetteville.
“We talked on the headphones and said we were struggling offensively. We didn’t have a lot of rhythm and we felt like we needed to change some things up,” Smart said in his post game press conference. “I don’t know how many drives we were into with D’Wan [Mathis], it felt like five maybe six, I don’t know how many total it was before we went with Stetson [Bennett] but we just though he could give us some energy. There are some things he can do well.
Smart chalked it all up to Bennett’s experience.
“He’s different than D’Wan and more experienced. He gave us a spark and he’s very decisive with the ball. He makes good decisions. He understands what the defense is trying to do to him so getting to watch them [Arkansas] defensively I think helped him.”
Bennett has been with the program for two years before this season. He initially signed with Georgia and redshirted in 2017. Then, he transferred to Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss. and lead them to a 10-2 record in 2018. After Justin Fields bolted for Ohio State at the end of freshman year, Bennett re-signed with the program and was Jake Fromm’s primary backup last season.
“Stetson has played in a lot of football games. Everybody forgets he went to Mississippi and played in the JUCO league where he played in 10 games and got to play a whole season. That value of playing that season is immense in terms of getting reps. Then he came here and took every single rep for an entire year behind Jake Fromm as the No. 2. So we knew and we felt comfortable with what we had in Stetson in terms of all the reps he had taken.”
When Bennett’s name was called, he was ready to take over and he didn’t disappoint. Right away, he started firing the ball all over the yard and completing passes. With one minute left in the first half, the Bulldogs took the field and successfully drove the length of it to set up placekicker Jack Podlesny with great field position. Bennett looked impressive under pressure as he completed five passes to several different receivers, while doing so with no timeouts on that drive.
Even though Georgia trailed 7-5 at halftime, that drive alone helped build momentum going into the second half.
A James Cook fumble took away a little bit of that spark, but Georgia’s defense held Arkansas to a field goal on the next drive. The Bulldogs started their second drive of the third quarter with 8:23 left. With pressure coming, Bennett rushed for nine yards during the first play. followed by Zamir White‘s longest run of the day for a 20-yard gain.
That’s when Bennett hit Kearis Jackson on consecutive completions to put Georgia inside the red zone. A botched snap resulted in a twelve-yard loss on the next play, but the very next snap Bennett hit sophomore George Pickens for a 19-yard touchdown that gave Georgia the lead.
It was at that moment that Georgia never looked back.
“I always expect to come in, because if you don’t, then it’s kind of poor when you do,” Bennett said after the game. “The first half was pretty poor. The second half was better. A few times I checked a protection that I shouldn’t have. On that two point conversion, it worked out, but maybe it won’t next time. So it’s things like that that I’ve got to fix.”
White blocked a punt on the next Razorback possession that gave Georgia great field position following that touchdown drive. It only took the Bulldogs four plays until Bennett found tight end John FitzPatrick for his first ever collegiate touchdown. At that point, Georgia was in complete control of the game.
Georgia’s defense did the rest as they forced consecutive interceptions on Arkansas’ next two drives, with one of them being returned for six by cornerback Eric Stokes.
“We work hand in hand. Our offense is only as good as our defense, It’s our first game since the bowl game, so we expect some mistakes,” senior safety Richard LeCounte said after the game. “We are going to wake up tomorrow, go get those mistakes handled and get ready for our next opponent. I’m not worried about anything that happened on any side of the ball because I know we have the best players in the nation.“
Bennett finished the game completing 20-of-29 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. That is pretty impressive considering he wasn’t mentioned much in the preseason by the media. The Bulldogs had 12 different players catch a pass, with Bennett hitting 10 of them individually. Bennett also had a few good scrambles as he finished with 20 yards on five carries. His converted two-point conversation was also a rush that he stretched for the pylon to get.
Regardless, Bennett’s readiness proved to be a key factor in Georgia’s win heading into next week’s matchup against Auburn. Even though the decision on who will be the starter for next week hasn’t been made, don’t count Bennett out if JT Daniels is able to go. Although, Bennett seems to know that he hasn’t earned that top spot just quite yet.
“There’s a lot people in the world, a lot of voices, a lot of people talking and a lot of people who don’t know a lot of stuff talking,” Bennett said. “You just have to listen to those close to you and yourself, work every day.”
Here is the video from Bennett’s post-game conference: