Georgia's Stetson Bennett says resentment, jealousy never part of duel with JT Daniels

Georgia photo by Skylar Lien / Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett believes he has learned a lot since last season's 41-24 loss at Alabama, when he threw three interceptions.

So what would today's Stetson Bennett say to the Stetson Bennett of Labor Day weekend, when he was the third-string quarterback behind JT Daniels and Carson Beck before the Bulldogs vied with Clemson in Charlotte?

"If I told myself that I would be in this position, I think that would have made me smile," Bennett said Monday. "Other than that, I don't know. Maybe don't throw those two balls against Florida."

The Southeastern Conference championship game through the years has contained the elite-level quarterbacking likes of Danny Wuerffel, Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow and Mac Jones, but Bennett has a chance to join that victorious lineup from a more unlikely background. The former walk-on from minuscule Blackshear, Georgia, capitalized on a Daniels injury earlier this season and never relinquished the starting role, repeating a scenario that transpired for the 2017 Bulldogs with Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason.

Georgia's 2017 team is its most recent SEC champion, but Bennett and his all-around abilities will look to change that Saturday when the No. 1 Bulldogs and No. 4 Alabama square off inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

"He is fast and has great feet," Alabama sophomore outside linebacker Will Anderson said. "He can escape the pocket really well. He can move sideline to sideline, so I think the biggest thing right now is that we have to keep maintaining the pocket. We can't let him run all over the field and make long drives with his feet.

"Watching film, I think that's one of the biggest things that we're looking for."

Standing just 5-foot-11 and weighing 190 pounds, Bennett has started eight straight games for the Bulldogs, conquering respected foe after respected foe. He played every snap in Georgia's five biggest SEC contests - Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee - and has completed 119 of 183 attempts (65.0%) for 1,985 yards with 21 touchdowns and five interceptions.

His efficiency rating of 188.5 is the highest among Power Five quarterbacks, as is his 10.8 yards per attempt.

That accuracy and productivity through the air is complemented by his 240 rushing yards, which includes a 30-yard scramble at Auburn and memorable 9-yard touchdown run at Tennessee.

"I'm the luckiest guy in the world," Bennett said . "If you just break it down, the coolest thing is just being able to play football. I love this game, and I love this sport. I come from a high school where there was one other guy who went to play college ball, and he went to play D-III ball in Vermont.

"I've always expected to play ball because I've always had a high confidence in my abilities."

Bennett chose to be a Georgia walk-on in 2017 and quickly fell into the shadows as Fromm replaced an injured Eason in the Appalachian State opener and guided the Bulldogs not only to a league title but a 54-48 Rose Bowl triumph over Oklahoma in double-overtime. Georgia had to survive Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield in that game, and that's where Bennett made his first mark.

"What a wild ride he's had from start to finish," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. "Before the Rose Bowl, when he had to play the role of Baker Mayfield in practice, that's when the legend really started. We knew then that this guy was a really good athlete, smart with the ball and did a lot of good things."

After redshirting in 2017, Bennett transferred to Jones College in Mississippi, where he played the 2018 season before returning to Athens with a scholarship. Bennett competed in five of 14 games for the Bulldogs in 2019 and made five starts a year ago, when he replaced D'Wan Mathis as the starter but then got replaced by Daniels.

One of Bennett's starts last season transpired in Tuscaloosa, and it wasn't his finest night. In a 41-24 loss to an Alabama team on its way to the national title, Bennett completed just 18 of 40 passes for 269 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions, but he has proven that a lot has changed in the 13 months since.

"I just have more understanding of football and what a game takes to win," he said. "I don't have to go out there and win the game on an individual play. It's OK to throw the ball away or run and get two or three yards."

That Georgia has made it to Atlanta is no surprise whatsoever, but that it's occurred with Bennett holding the reins is something nobody saw coming. The Bulldogs have thrived on many fronts, including the shift from Bennett to Daniels that never contained any toxicity.

"A lot of resentment and all that stuff comes from jealousy," Bennett said. "Obviously, we both want to be the starting quarterback, but we also know what's important is the team. Regardless of who has been starting in the past or in the future or any of that stuff, if we flash those feelings or begin to try to undermine the other person - first of all, it's not going to work because we don't make those decisions.

"It's also going to negatively affect the team. I think we both have a respect and reverence for the University of Georgia, the SEC and football in general, and all of those things allow us to see that it's bigger than us and ourselves. I think both of us have a pretty good understanding of that and I guess life in general."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.