FOOTBALL

Georgia's Bennett gets another shot at Gators after playing through injury last year

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
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Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett throws a pass against Vanderbilt during the second quarter of the game at Vanderbilt Stadium on Sept. 25 in Nashville, Tenn.

Though No. 1 Georgia has yet to decide on a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game, Florida will likely face Stetson Bennett IV for the second consecutive season. 

The former walk-on emerged as UGA’s starter in 2020, but had his worst — and most painful — game of the year against the Gators. 

On his first-quarter touchdown pass to put the Bulldogs up 14-0, Bennett suffered an AC sprain in his right shoulder after taking a shot from safety Rashad Torrence II. 

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“He’s tough,” UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said Monday of Bennett. “In our game before, he went out and he'd actually gotten hit and tried to stay in the game but just couldn’t finish it. So he has some toughness to him.”

Bennett played the ensuing series, went to the locker room to receive a pain shot from the training staff, then returned to play after missing just one offensive possession. But after getting intercepted by cornerback Kaiir Elam on Georgia’s opening drive of the second half, Bennett was pulled for D’Wan Mathis. 

Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett runs against Florida at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville in last year's game. The Gators beat the Bulldogs 44-28

“I think the secondary did a great job, our D-line did a great job just showing different looks. Coach Grantham called a great defensive game,” Florida safety Trey Dean III said of last year’s 44-28 victory over UGA. “We were able to stop them and just do different things that we needed to do to get three-and-outs, get off the field and then the ultimate goal, to get a win.”

Bennett finished with a season-low 78 yards on 5 of 16 passing, while Mathis threw for 34 yards (4 of 13) with two picks and a touchdown. Bennett would miss three of the next four games and attempted just two more passes the rest of the season as Southern Cal transfer JT Daniels took over. 

Bennett is back to full strength in his throwing shoulder and has regained his starting job — for now. Grantham has been impressed with Bennett’s play this year. 

“I think the guy does a really good job. He’s competitive. He’s really fast; he can pull the ball and run the quarterback runs. He can run away from people, DBs, things like that. He manages the game, knows where to throw the ball,” Grantham said of Bennett. “It’s like anything, when you have experience in the system from Year 1 to Year 2, you probably get a little bit better. I think with a smart guy like him he’s been able to maybe be a little bit clearer in his reads as far as the passing game and where to throw it. Obviously he can hand it to those quality backs, which forces you to play some eight-man fronts that creates one-on-one opportunities outside, and then he’s confident in his ability to throw the ball down the field.”

Bennett had 250 passing yards and three touchdowns in Georgia’s 30-13 victory over Kentucky, and threw for 231 yards and two scores in the 34-10 win at Auburn. He also averaged 7.0 yards per carry in his last two games and hasn't thrown an interception in the month of October. 

“He’s gonna make the right decisions, he’s not really gonna force a lot of things. He’s a great player,” Dean said of Bennett. “Been doing a really good job being poised. He had a lot of tough away games … and he’s just been poised, making the right decisions. So we just gotta bring it to him.”

Bennett has started the last three games and four overall this season, while Daniels has been recovering from a lat strain after making three starts. Daniels practiced last week and is expected to be available Saturday, so Grantham is preparing for both quarterbacks. 

“These guys have equal abilities from the standpoint of they both can make plays. Obviously when JT came in at the end of last year, he gave them a hot hand and they were able to get on a streak. And they wanted to carry that in. As he got injured, injury creates opportunities so as Stetson came in, he took advantage of his opportunity and led the team to right now an undefeated season,” Grantham said. “So really they have the luxury of two quality quarterbacks and it’s just us understanding that they’re still going to run the plays they run and we’ve got to be able to fit those up right. If something does come up as we move forward with those guys, we’ll make sure we’re aware who’s in the game.”

Saturday

Who: Florida (4-3, 2-3 SEC) vs. No. 1 Georgia (7-0, 5-0)

When: 3:30 p.m. 

Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

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