Smart stands by Dogs’ Bennett after 3 interceptions in loss

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) is hit by Tennessee linebacker Morven Joseph (19) as he releases a pass in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)


An unexpected open week would be the perfect opportunity to consider changes following No. 4 Georgia’s ugly loss to Alabama.

There was no indication from coach Kirby Smart on Tuesday that a change is coming at quarterback.

Asked if Stetson Bennett is still Georgia’s starter, Smart said “Like I have talked about before, I feel great about Stetson. He’s done a good job of managing the situations we have put him in.”

Bennett threw three interceptions while completing only 18 of 40 passes for 269 yards with two touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 41-24 loss to No. 2 Alabama on Saturday.

Smart stuck with Bennett even as Georgia failed to score in the second half.

Georgia’s game at Kentucky, originally scheduled for this week, was pushed back to Oct. 31 as the Southeastern Conference adjusted to the coronavirus pandemic. That gives the Bulldogs (3-1) a week off to regroup.

D’Wan Mathis and JT Daniels could see more practice snaps with the No. 1 offense this week. Smart said off weeks are a time to change the normal routine of giving starters 78 percent of snaps with the first-team offense.

“This week, we will get to get a lot of guys reps,” Smart said. “JT will get reps, D’Wan will get reps, Stetson will continue to get reps. We try to develop our roster. … It just gives a chance to give more guys work and see where they are in their progress. That’s true at every position and true at quarterback.”

It could be an important week for Daniels, the former Southern California starter who was at first limited by his recovery from a knee injury following his transfer to Georgia. Daniels has yet to make his Georgia debut.

Mathis started Georgia’s opener against Arkansas before Bennett led the team to a comeback win and kept the job.

Bennett drew positive reviews for his early season play, including in Georgia’s 44-21 win over then-No. 14 Tennessee, but he struggled against the Crimson Tide.

Though he remained supportive of Bennett, Smart also said the former walk-on nicknamed “The Mailman” must do a better job of stepping up in the pocket and avoiding passes into coverages.

The 5-foot-11 Bennett had some passes deflected at the line, possibly leading him to scramble on other plays when he should have remained in the pocket.

Smart said the tipped passes may have affected Bennett’s decisions.

“But it’s one of those things every good quarterback finds,” Smart said. “You look all across the league, in the NFL, in college football, height is not the greatest indicator of batted balls. The ability to use the pocket is, and a lot of that comes from experience.”

Smart said former Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm “was really good” at knowing when to step up in the pocket to avoid pressure.

“He could feel the pocket opening and step up in the pocket and either run or make a throw,” Smart said. “We continue to work with Stetson on that. He’s shown the ability to do that. He didn’t always trust it Saturday. He’s got good pass protectors around him.”

Georgia didn’t score in the second half after leading 24-20 at halftime. The three interceptions thrown by Bennett were his first of the season.

““I just didn’t play well enough,” Bennett said after the game. “I have to figure out how to not give bad balls, have to figure out how to not throw interceptions and how to score points in the second half.”


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