In his first two games as Georgia's starting quarterback, Stetson Bennett IV has guided the Bulldogs to wins over No. 7 Auburn and No. 14 Tennessee by at least three touchdowns.
Bennett is quite aware of the victory margins, stating after last Saturday's 44-21 triumph over the Volunteers, "I think we covered tonight, so that's good."
Georgia is the Southeastern Conference's only team to cover the spread each of the first three weeks of this 10-game schedule consisting solely of league contests, but it's Bennett's unflappable manner that should give Bulldogs backers significant optimism this week as the No. 3 Bulldogs face No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. That, of course, and Georgia's deep and unrelenting defense that held Auburn without a touchdown and held Arkansas and Tennessee without second-half touchdowns.
The Bulldogs haven't defeated Alabama since Matthew Stafford was a sophomore quarterback in 2007, with Stafford (2008), Aaron Murray (2012), Greyson Lambert (2015) and Jake Fromm (2017 and 2018) coming up short in subsequent matchups.
"It's exciting," Bennett said of college football's marquee regular-season showdown amid the coronavirus pandemic. "Anytime you get to play somebody you don't usually play — I know we played them in Atlanta the past few years — it's exciting, but it's just another game."
Of the two redshirt junior quarterbacks who will take the field Saturday night inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, one may have emerged as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Alabama's Mac Jones is coming off a 28-of-32, 417-yard performance during Saturday night's 63-48 outlasting of Ole Miss in Oxford.
Jones already has thrown for 1,101 yards, is completing 79.5% of his passes, has eight touchdowns against just one interception, and leads the nation with a 220.3 efficiency rating.
Bennett can't flash those kinds of numbers, but he does have 53 completions in 84 attempts (63.1%) for 689 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound former walk-on also has rallied Georgia from slight halftime deficits against Arkansas and Tennessee, replacing a struggling D'Wan Mathis in the opener against the Razorbacks.
"He understands coverage, so he knows where he's supposed to go with the ball, and he can work it across," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "It's very similar to Jake. He got to watch Jake do that, and Jake was really elite at that. Stetson is advanced at that as well.
"The little things like changing the protection and someone disguising the coverage — he's growing in regards to the way he handles that. I'm proud of his growth and execution and his ability to distribute the ball."
Bennett's efficiency rating of 151.6 ranks 20th nationally and sixth in the SEC, but he's the only league starter yet to be intercepted.
"I think that's a pride thing," Bennett said. "We know that our defense goes into each week saying, 'How are we going to create havoc? How are we going to get people to turn the ball over?' It's a pride thing.
"Don't throw any picks. Don't fumble the ball, and we've got a good chance to win the game."
Bennett feels more comfortable than he did a couple of weeks ago, but he insists he was comfortable entering the Arkansas game early in the second quarter, adding, "I've been throwing to a lot of these guys for however many years now."
Though Smart is praising Bennett for his ability to spread the wealth, redshirt sophomore receiver Kearis Jackson certainly has emerged as a prominent target. Jackson has 19 receptions for 300 yards through three games, including 13 for 238 in the last two.
"Kearis plays the game hard, and he gets open," Bennett said. "It's easy to throw him the ball, because he catches it."
Sophomore George Pickens, the top projected perimeter threat before the season, has eight catches for 87 yards by comparison but has been a focal point of opposing defenses.
Georgia showcased emerging talents such as freshman running back Kendall Milton and freshman receiver Jermaine Burton against Tennessee, and Florida State graduate transfer tight end Tre McKitty had a successful debut versus the Vols as well. It's an offense growing in pieces and growing in ability, and Bennett knows it.
"There is no telling what we could do if we clean up the little things," Bennett said.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.