INDIANAPOLIS – Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett is aware of the fine line between criticism and praise. It’s all part of the job.
Bennett received that criticism after a 41-24 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game. He heard those accolades after leading Georgia to a 34-11 victory over Michigan in the semifinal of the college football playoffs at the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31. There is increasing frustration over the things Bennett can’t, or just won’t, say.
“You are either the hero or the zero,” Bennett told reporters at CFP’s media availability on Saturday. “I’m glad it was me instead of anyone else because I can handle it because I can turn it off and tell people to go blah blah.”
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Fill in the blanks about what “blah blah” might mean before Monday’s college football championship game against No. 1 Alabama at Lucas Oil Stadium. Bennett could be the quarterback leading No. 3 Georgia to its first national championship since 1980. Or he could be on the losing end of a third start in two seasons against Crimson Tide.
“Hero or zero”, in fact. The last Georgia quarterback to lead a national championship was Buck Belue, who is now a radio analyst at Sports Radio 680 in Atlanta. Belue interviewed Bennett before the Orange Bowl game against Michigan and got some interesting information about the Bulldogs’ starter.
“I think he’s aware that there is a narrative that people want to see (backup quarterback) JT Daniels,” Belue told Sporting News. “From what I can tell, he’s tough, a tough, determined guy. Stetson is that. At the end of the day, that will help him through this challenge.”
Bennett erased some doubts with 313 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Wolverines, and his teammates have continued to rally around their quarterback. Tackle Jamaryee Salyer, an Atlanta native, said Bennett’s leadership comes from that unapologetic close-to-home personality.
“Country boy, South Georgia boy,” Bennett said. “He’ll be the only kid who’s going into the locker room blasting out country music. That’s just Stetson. He doesn’t want to be a person he’s not. He never will be. I think authenticity in who he is and what he stands for draws people in. people towards him. “
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“He went from making the quarterback on the Rose Bowl scouting team, and he’s just working,” added All-American defensive tackle Jordan Davis. “He is a great worker.”
Bennett, a two-star quarterback in high school, took the long road to this moment. He was a quarterback on the scouting team when Georgia raced into the 2018 CFP championship game, also against Alabama. He transferred to Jones College in Ellisville, Miss. Before returning to Georgia. He has played the starting and reserve role for the past two seasons, an atypical journey for a quarterback who plays on the biggest stage.
Bennett chooses his words carefully when discussing those roles within the show. He said “reserve” was the wrong word to describe his experience as a scout team quarterback. He is also “fortunate and extremely blessed” to be the starter now. Marquee games against Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and Michigan led to this moment. He also pointed to his late grandfather Buddy Bennett, who left Stetson University for South Carolina, as a real example of going the long way.
“He hitchhiked to South Carolina,” Bennett said. “He was the main running back for the ACC. Like I said, people make my trip a fuss. I didn’t hitchhike anywhere. That’s just what you want to do if you want to play soccer.”
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Of course, the two starts against Alabama in a 41-24 loss over the past two seasons have been in focus. Bennett was 18 of 40 for 269 yards and two touchdowns and three interceptions in 2020. He finished 29 of 48 for 340 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in the SEC championship game. The inbox for what to do this time is also full.
What is the focus now?
“‘I guess, are you going to outsmart yourself?” Bennett said Monday. “Are you going to overthink everything? No. We’re not. Obviously when we go out on the field, would I prefer Alabama, if they’re going to change something, send us an email this week? I’d love to.” that, but I guess they won’t. “
There’s that touch of country humor to borrowing from a line that Alabama coach Nick Saban has used in the past. Bennett, despite all the narratives, seems composed and ready for this moment, a product of the upbringing of his parents Stetson and Denise. The Georgia quarterback appreciates the journey his parents took to make this opportunity possible, and that helps him walk that line between criticism and praise.
“I don’t want to sound clichéd and corny, but it does, it inspires me,” Bennett said. “If they can do all that and be successful, what is a little soccer?”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.