If Georgia Quarterback Stetson Bennett was Rodney Dangerfield, he might say, “I finally got some respect” Saturday afternoon after a decisive victory over the number 11 rated Oregon Ducks inside Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Even former Florida quarterback Jesse Palmer gave him a helmet sticker on the College Football Final Show for an outstanding performance against former Georgia Defensive Coordinator and current Oregon Head Coach Dan Lanning, who knows Bennett almost as well as the Georgia coaching staff. But even three touchdowns and a 25 for 31 pass completion ratio that produced 368 yards in less than three complete quarters probably won’t satisfy some critics who questioned the absence of a running game. Actually, Oregon out-rushed Georgia 140 yards to 132, but that must include the fact that most of the Oregon yardage came off scrambles by quarterback Bo Nix when the Dawg defense ran him out of the pocket. But that is an ignorable detail for some who might still argue that Bennett is too short and inconsistent.
But the Georgia trigger puller was solid and unflappable on Saturday. He hit the open receivers and threw the ball away or scrambled when they were covered. More importantly perhaps, the Dogs came out throwing when Oregon expected the traditional run-heavy approach, which, no doubt, helped generate the solid statistics by Bennett and his receivers and provided an untraditional light workload for the Georgia running backs. However, running back Kenny McIntosh led all receivers with 9 receptions for 117 yards.
For more pragmatic Georgia fans, Saturday’s airshow was just another indication of the fact that Coach Kirby Smart takes what the defense gives. No doubt, some of those griping about the lack of a running game include many who bemoaned some Bulldog running attempts last year during obvious passing situations. Some of those runs were smacked down at the line of scrimmage, and immediate post-mortems by the painted face crowd and Monday Morning quarterbacks invariably decreed that the Dogs should have thrown the ball, and it should be JT Daniels throwing it.
Even after a tremendous National Championship performance that was exceeded on Saturday against the Ducks, some self-proclaimed ‘experts’ will be calling for backup Carson Beck to be inserted into the fray immediately if Bennett stubs his toe in an upcoming contest. It’s the nature of the game and the fans. Florida fans demanded that sort of change right before the Georgia game last year, and they got what they wanted and what they didn’t want in one untidy package. As always, the bottom line can be summed up in one word. Win…
But Stetson Bennett had a day to remember Saturday. Some saw an excellent opportunity for Coach Dan Lanning to upset the Bulldog applecart after so many talented Bulldogs went to professional teams in the 2022 draft. Early in the game, Oregon moved the ball consistently against the Georgia defense as indicated by a total of 21 first downs. Fortunately, the defense made big plays in the red zone, which de-feathered the Duck offense. Bennet engineered six drives for six touchdowns, and the Dogs made eight third down conversions in eight attempts. That’s fairly close to perfection.
The Dogs had a 42-3 lead with almost four minutes left in the third quarter, so Coach Smart gave a lot of young players game time, which is good for morale. He could have put up 70 points, but he doesn’t try to embarrass teams. That’s both classy and smart, no pun intended.
Who knows where it will go from here? As always, Lady Luck will deal wild cards and jokers, and Alabama, Clemson, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio State, and Michigan are itching for revenge. LSU, Notre Dame, Florida, Southern California, and Oklahoma have new head coaches with experience in well established, winning programs, so the road to another national championship is a long, tough row to hoe, with capable and ambitious contenders waiting to ambush the young men in red helmets from Athens.
But one thing is for certain, Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs won’t get knocked off the top of the mountain without a fight. Afterwards, when a breathless Molly McGrath asked Stetson Bennett what the win meant for a potential second championship, he replied. “We play Samford next week.” That’s a classic Kirby Smart response that this game is over, so it’s time to get ready for the next opponent. In a nutshell, that’s what it’s all about. Go Dawgs!