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Why Kirby Smart Will Probably Stick With Stetson Bennett at QB

Can Stetson outrun a healthy JT Daniels? Credit: Mackenzie Miles

I know I said a few weeks ago there was no quarterback controversy and would be no quarterback controversy. So it pains me to say, the Georgia Bulldogs find themselves in the midst of a quarterback controversy.

The Dawgs traveled to the Plains and whipped up on Auburn 34-10, and we didn’t play particularly well. Regardless of how well we played, though, we still kicked the ass of a top-20 rival on the road while starting backups in many key positions. That’s how good this team is.

One of those backups is quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, who has started the last two games while JT Daniels deals with a nagging lat injury. Against the Tigers, Bennett passed for 231 yards and two touchdowns while completing 14 of 21 passes. He also scrambled effectively, getting the Dawgs out of some tough spots and netting 41 yards in the process. For the season, the Mailman has 746 passing yards and eight touchdowns along with another 126 yards on the ground. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but they allowed us to win each of his three starts with ease.

Between the way Bennett has played and the relative ease with which he or Daniels would handle most of our remaining opponents, it seems nitpicky to get so focused on the quarterback at this stage of the season. If we’re winning, who cares, right? Just play the guy who’s winning. But Kirby Smart said it best in the locker room after the win over South Carolina: “We’re not practicing to beat somebody. We’re practicing to beat everybody.”

We are in Death Star Optimization Mode, and in this mode, details matter. There are only a handful of teams in the country that can beat us. Now nits must be picked to guarantee we don’t lose those games when the stakes are highest.

It’s clear based on what we’ve seen the last two seasons that Kirby has a lot of faith in Bennett, probably a lot more than fans and pundits have ever had. Bennett is a good quarterback with the capability to beat almost every team we could face. The issue was always whether he could beat Alabama. Last year, the answer was no, as the Tide beat the Dawgs 41-24. This year, that’s less certain.

If you’ve been living under a rock, you may have missed Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M 41-38. (It should be noted that the 41 points Bama gave up are more than Georgia has allowed all season. Combined.) This is not the same Bama as year’s past. They are vulnerable and beatable. What’s more, if we beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, they’ll have two losses, and it’s possible they won’t make the playoff at all. If you put this Georgia team with Bennett under center against this Alabama team on a neutral field, it ain’t gonna be the same as last year.

I imagine Kirby’s original plan was to stick with Bennett through the game this weekend against Kentucky—the only other undefeated SEC team, by the way—and get to the bye week. Then Daniels returns after a full month of rest for the Cocktail Party. But if Bennett keeps putting up numbers against Kentucky, I don’t see Kirby sitting him. Not unless he’s had a radical change in philosophy. It’s like the Jake Fromm vs. Justin Fields debate of 2018 all over again. Do you stick with who has you winning or switch to the guy with the higher ceiling?

Between the way the program is structured, the way Kirby has recruited, and the excellent coaches on staff, Georgia is going to be good for a very long time. But it’s hard to see our path to a title ever opening wider than it has this season.

Alabama lost to an unranked opponent for the first time since 2007, the Chaos Season and Nick Saban’s first in Tuscaloosa. The Tide has held a stranglehold over college football ever since. But 2021 is starting to have the feel of a Chaos Season, too, and Bama’s grip is slipping ever so slightly.

I hoped we wouldn’t have to have a quarterback controversy conversation this season. But because Bennett has played so well, bringing Daniels back in isn’t reverting to the norm. It’s a proactive decision to change things up. The way things have broken, the Dawgs have a rare opportunity, and it’s a decision Kirby can’t afford to whiff on.