INDIANAPOLIS – Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett knows the right line between criticism and praise. It’s all part of the job.
Bennett received the challenge after a 41-24 loss to Alabama in a SEC Championship match. He heard that praise after leading Georgia to a 34-11 victory over Michigan in the College Football Playoff semifinals at the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31. There is frustration that stems from what Bennett cannot – or will not – say.
“Are you a hero or zero,” Bennett told reporters at a media briefing on CFP on Saturday. “I’m glad it was me instead of everyone else because I could stand it because I could just shut up and tell people blah, blah.”
Write down what “blah, blah” would mean in front of Monday’s College Football Playoff match against No. 1 Alabama at Lucas Oil Stadium. Bennett could be the quarterback who leads No. 3 Georgia to its first national competition since 1980. Or they could be on the verge of losing a third start in two seasons against Crimson Tide.
“Hero or zero,” of course. The last person in Georgia to lead the world championships was Buck Belue, who is now an expert on Sports Radio 680 in Atlanta. Bellue asked Bennett ahead of the Orange Bowl matchup against Michigan and found some interesting information on the Bulldogs’ founders.
“I think he knows there is a story that people want to see (backup quarterback) JT Daniels,” Belue told Sporting News. “As far as I know, he’s stable, tough and determined. That’s Stetson. In the end, this will help him tackle the problem.”
Bennett removed some doubts by more than 313 yards and a three-run strike against Wolverines, with the players still going round their quarterback. Tackle Jamaryee Salyer, a native of Atlanta, said Bennett’s leadership stems from a personality close to home.
“A child of the world, a child of South Georgia,” said Bennett. “He’ll be the only kid who comes in the closet playing national anthems. That’s just Stetson. He doesn’t want to be a person who isn’t. He never will be.
“He came from the Rose Bowl scout QB team coming, and he’s just getting tired, working,” added All-American defender Jordan Davis. “He’s a very hard worker.”
Bennett, a two-star high school graduate, has come a long way. He was a scout-team quarterback when Georgia ran in the 2018 CFP tournament, as well as against Alabama. She moved to Jones College in Ellisville, before she returned to Georgia. He has been the starter and has kept the reserve for the past two seasons – a full-time quarterback tour playing on a much larger stage.
Bennett selects his words carefully when referring to the roles within the program. He said “backup” was not the right word to describe his experience as a scout quarterback. He is also “lucky and blessed” to be the first here. Marquee games against Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and Michigan dominated this moment. He also cited his late grandfather Buddy Bennett, who left Stetson University for South Carolina, as a prime example of taking a long road.
“He drove to South Carolina,” Bennett said. “He was a great ACC champion. As I said, people really impressed me on my trip. I didn’t walk hard anywhere. That’s what you want to do if you want to play football.”
Obviously, the duo are starting against Alabama in a double-bill loss 41-24 two seasons ago. Bennett was 18 of 40 for 269 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in 2020. He completed 29 of 48 for 340 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in a SEC Championship game. The inboxes to do this time are also full.
What is the solution now?
“‘I think, are you better than yourself?” Bennett said Monday. “Do you think you can overreact to anything? No. We don’t. Obviously when we go to the field, I’d like Alabama, if he changed everything, to send us an email this week? I would like? That, but I think he can’t.”
There is an interesting touch of the country in borrowing the line that Alabama coach Nick Saban used in the past. Bennett, in all cases, seems calm and ready for the moment, thanks to his parents Stetson and Denise. The Georgia player appreciates the journey his parents made to make the opportunity possible, and this helps him walk the line between criticism and gratitude.
“I don’t want to sound like cliché and cheesy, but it inspires me,” Bennett said. “If he can do all this and do well, then what is a little ball?”