Georgia’s Stetson Bennett embraces chance to play ‘hero’ in CFP championship

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 that praise 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 a growing frustration over the things Bennett can’t, or just doesn’t want. tell.

“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.”

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 to lead 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 race 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 is aware that there is a narrative that people want to see (backup quarterback) JT Daniels,” Belue told Sporting News. “As far as I can tell, he’s tough, tough and determined. Stetson is that. At the end of the day, that will help him meet this challenge.”

Bennett erased some doubts with 313 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Wolverines, and his teammates have continued to support their quarterback. Tackle Jamaryee Salyer, an Atlanta native, said Bennett’s leadership comes from that close-to-home personality who is unapologetic.

“Country boy, South Georgia boy,” Bennett said. “He’ll be the only kid who walks into the locker room with country music blaring. That’s what Stetson is. He doesn’t want to be a person he’s not. He never will be. I think the authenticity of who he is and what he represents draws people to. he”.

“He went from being QB on the Rose Bowl scouting team and he’s just grinding, working,” added All-American defensive tackle Jordan Davis. “He is an extremely hard worker.”

Bennett, a two-star quarterback in high school, took the long road up to this point. He was a quarterback on the scouting team when Georgia entered the 2018 CFP championship game, also against Alabama. He transferred to Jones College in Ellisville, Mississippi, before returning to Georgia. He has played the starting and backing role for the past two seasons, an atypical journey for a quarterback who plays on the biggest stage.

Bennett chooses his words carefully when speaking of those roles within the show. He said “backup” 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. Featured games against Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and Michigan led to this moment. He also pointed to his late grandfather Buddy Bennett, who went from Stetson University to 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 a big fuss about my trip. I didn’t hitchhike anywhere. That’s just what you want to do if you want to play soccer.”

Of course, the two starts against Alabama in twin 41-24 losses in 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 fool yourself?” Bennett said Monday. “Are you going to overthink everything? No. We won’t. Obviously when we go out on the field, would you prefer Alabama, if they’re going to change something, email us this week? I’d love that, but I assume not. they will “.

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 poised and ready for this moment, a product of the upbringing of his parents Stetson and Denise. The Georgia quarterback appreciates the trips 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 cliché and corny, but it inspires me,” Bennett said. “If they can do all of that and be successful, then what is a little soccer?”