It’s fair to say that most of the concern thrown Georgia’s way about keeping Stetson Bennett in the starter’s role boils down to a simple question: is he the quarterback who can keep up with the prolific offenses Georgia will see, starting with Alabama in the SECCG? Here’s how Bill Connelly ($$) summarizes it:
Because Georgia has coasted through this season so minimally challenged, it still feels like we don’t know everything we need to know about whether Bennett has really broken through this season. This feels like an unfair standard, but it might remain a question until the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
And hell, if Bama’s offensive line isn’t up to snuff, it could get destroyed by Georgia’s front, at which point nothing else might matter. There might not be an offense as good as last year’s Bama and Florida offenses this year, so for all we know Bennett will keep right on doing what he’s doing, and the Dawgs will be just fine. But in theory, Atlanta might still tell us something.
On that last point, he’s right. If Georgia’s defense is that generational, all this quarterback talk is moot. Georgia will win a natty no matter who comes out to take snaps.
For the sake of this post, though, let’s assume he’s not and that Georgia eventually faces an offense that can put up more points than we’ve been accustomed to seeing this season. Well, first of all, let’s put that in perspective. As Bill notes, there isn’t an equivalent offense in 2021 that’s a peer of 2020 ‘Bama or 2019 LSU. Also, let’s not forget that Georgia’s defense has been pretty friggin’ spectacular. So even if we say there’s an offense out there that exceeds expectations, it’s not like we’re going to see one put up 40+ points.
Given that, why is it unreasonable to expect Bennett to keep up? Georgia hasn’t scored fewer than 30 points in any of his starts this season. All of which is a roundabout way of getting around to what may be Georgia’s kryptonite if Bennett starts: the right kind of opposing defense. Take a look at his 2021 game log. It tells a consistent story. Bennett is absolutely destroying defenses that sell out to stop the run and leave him with easy pickings over the top against secondaries left to fend for themselves. But in the two games when he faced defenses that didn’t go balls out against the run and played softer, over the top coverage against the pass, Arkansas and Florida, he turned in his two worst performances of the season.
In those two games it didn’t matter because the defense took control of both contests. But what happens when he faces better opposition that also features a defense that can take a similar approach? Fortunately, Georgia won’t play Georgia on the way to a championship, but there is at least one team out there that gives me some pause in that regard.
Here are the national rankings for defensive passer rating:
I hate to break it to y’all, but Cincinnati’s pass defense is good. And before you break into a chorus of “hey, they ain’t played nobody, PAWWWLLL”, take a look at Notre Dame’s passing game log this season.
One of those passer ratings ain’t like the others.
Cinci’s defensive passing game logs over the past two seasons are remarkably consistent, and at a high level.
With one significant exception…
No quarterback has played the Bearcats’ defense as well as Daniels did in the bowl game.
I don’t know how successfully Stetson can handle a defense that can keep Georgia’s passing game in front of them, forcing him to make underneath reads carefully, be patient with what he’s being given and, perhaps most importantly, convert third downs. Those are all areas where Daniels has a stronger game.
Now, again, maybe it won’t matter. There aren’t many great defenses expected to make the CFP field besides Georgia’s. Ohio State ranks 36th in defensive passer rating. Alabama is 62nd. Oklahoma is 112th. Or, happily, maybe Georgia’s defense is a for the ages shut down type. But it’s possible that whom Stetson Bennett is throwing against may matter more than who Georgia is defending. Just a thought…