Everything was lined up for Stetson Bennett IV to be the star of Saturday's sports world.
Georgia's redshirt junior quarterback and former walk-on threw two first-half touchdown passes inside Bryant-Denny Stadium as the No. 3 Bulldogs bullied the defense of No. 2 Alabama in taking a 24-20 lead at intermission. The undersized Bennett was matching talents with more experienced Alabama counterpart Mac Jones, and CBS television cameras repeatedly captured the excitement of Bennett's family members every time their favorite player befuddled the Crimson Tide.
Bennett's first half was highlighted by an 82-yard scoring strike 11 seconds into the second quarter to running back James Cook, who raced past linebacker Christian Harris and gave the Bulldogs their first lead at 14-7.
"I told Cook that if they run a linebacker out on him that I was going to throw him the ball," Bennett said late Saturday night. "As soon as they did, I knew it. I knew Cook was going to beat him, and it worked out."
Bennett's second touchdown was a 5-yard connection to freshman receiver Jermaine Burton with 23 seconds left in the half, which provided the Bulldogs a 24-17 advantage but also accounted for Georgia's final points in a 41-24 defeat. Bennett's 177 first-half aerial yards were followed by just 91 in the final 30 minutes, and he threw two interceptions that aided in Georgia's undoing.
A far-too-busy stat line consisted of 18-of-40 passing for 269 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions, but Bennett also has a head coach who continues to have confidence in him despite the loss.
"I think Stetson has gotten better," Smart said. "When the level of competition changes, you don't change your evaluation. You have to grow and get better. The experience he gained tonight will be invaluable for him throughout the rest of the run on the road. He is a work in progress, just like our team is."
Georgia (3-1) slipped from No. 3 to No. 4 in Sunday's Associated Press poll. Alabama (4-0) remained No. 2 behind Clemson (5-0), with Notre Dame (4-0) third.
Bennett's first interception occurred less than a minute into the game, when DJ Dale batted the ball to fellow defensive lineman Justin Eboigbe. His second pick transpired with Alabama leading 27-24 in the third quarter, when a pass intended for Burton went off his hands and was collected at Alabama's 2-yard line by Malachi Moore, who raced 42 yards with the return.
"He made a couple of bonehead mistakes and got away with them, and some of them weren't his fault," Smart said. "He had a batted ball that was a pick. He had a ball I thought that Jermaine could have caught and went through his hands a little high, but the bonehead one was scrambling out of the pocket and throwing the ball across the field where nobody was there."
On the first play of the fourth quarter and with the Bulldogs trailing 34-24, Bennett scrambled to his right and forced a throw that was intercepted by Daniel Wright.
"I was trying to do too much and threw it across my body," Bennett said. "It wasn't smart, and I threw it right to a guy. I've known not to throw it across my body from the time I was 4 years old. It was just a boneheaded play, and I've got to learn from it."
Said Smart: "I'm not as frustrated by the throw as I am him aborting the pocket. He actually ran to where the pressure was, and you can't do that."
The early batted ball by Dale was among several the 5-foot-11 Bennett had to endure, which could be a focal point in the practices ahead.
"It's always a concern when it happens, and it hasn't been as relevant," Smart said. "I think Alabama has great defensive linemen, who typically push and try and cave in the pocket. Some of it is looking for a throwing window. Some of it is being willing to pull it down and run, because he is a really good athlete and can avoid that if he doesn't have his throwing window.
"They did a nice job of that, and I don't honestly know without watching the tape to see where he was going with the ball."
Due to scheduling adjustments made last Friday by the Southeastern Conference, the Bulldogs no longer travel to Kentucky this week but will have an open date. Georgia will instead head to Lexington on Oct. 31 before facing Florida in Jacksonville on Nov. 7.
"The schedule doesn't really change anything," Smart said. "It gives us a week to recover now as opposed to a week to recover before Florida. We've just got to play a really, really physical Kentucky team first and then go play Florida."