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Assuming the Position: Stetson Bennett leads QB unit loaded with talent but light on experience

NCAA Football: SEC Media Days Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia’s kicking off fall practice today, and just like the Bulldogs we’re gearing up for the season here at Dawg Sports. That starts with this first installment of our Assuming the Position series, in which we provide a detailed break down of every position group on the defending national champions’ roster. We start out with the most important position on the field, the quarterbacks.

It’s been quite a few months to be Stetson Bennett. He secured the starting quarterback spot at the school he grew up rooting for. He then took that school to its first national championship in four decades. Then he took a pull from a very expensive bottle of whiskey and made the tour of morning television talk shows. I can’t personally verify this, but I have to wonder if he’s had to pay for anything pricier than a pack of Juicy Fruit in Athens since mid-January. He’s experienced success, fame, and even outright adoration.

And continued disrespect. Stetson Bennett led his team to a decisive national title victory while throwing for 2862 yards and completing 64.5% of his passes. He was 4th in the nation in passer efficiency, ahead of the Heisman Trophy winner. He overcame a fluky fumble to lead a come-from-behind victory in the national title game, outdueling that same Heisman winning QB. He is the unquestioned starter on a team loaded with pass catching talent.

He’s a year older, a year wiser, and yet once again was absent from the All-SEC teams released by league media. Athlon Sports didn’t even place him among the top four quarterbacks in the conference. And over the summer former SEC quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Jordan Rogers both took to the SEC Network to rank the league’s signal callers and each failed to include Bennett in even their top five.

It’s ridiculous. It’s scandalous. It’s borderline slanderous.

And I love it.

Because if we’ve learned nothing else about Stetson Bennett, IV over the past two years it is that he’s motivated by disrespect. And if there was one thing that worried me about the Mailman coming into this season it was the tiny, nagging fear that he might have not only “made it”, but realized he made it.

Actually, there were two things that worried me about the Prince of Pierce. The other, the one that still nags me a bit, is that the deficiencies cited by his detractors are real, albeit less decisive than many of them seem to believe. At this stage of his development Stetson Bennett is t going to get any taller. His arm isn’t going to get a great deal stronger. His mechanics can only be fooled around with so much. Stetson Bennett does indeed have a physical ceiling and real physical limitations.

Those limitations were the reason that, as recently as the 11:35 mark of the fourth quarter, as Christian Harris sacked Bennett and Brian Branch recovered to set up a go ahead Alabama touchdown, Georgia fans were asking themselves whether Bennett really was up to the task. They’re the reason JT Daniels was the starter against Clemson to begin the season.

The question for Bulldog fans as we head into 2022 is what incremental improvement can be squeezed from Stetson Bennett, a quarterback who is as he was made by the Almighty: a short, slippery SOB with both a live arm and a big chip on his shoulder and a prodigious dip in his lip. That’s our quarterback.

The way Bennett plays his best football however, running and escaping, slashing downfield means that we can’t limit our analysis of the position to his prospects. The University of Georgia hasn’t ended the season with the same starter under center that it began with since 2019, for a variety of reasons. If Bennett is no longer able to fulfill his duties, there’s a solid array of talent behind him. Not experience, per se. But talent.

Carson Beck returns for his third season in Athens. The 6’4 Jacksonville native had a solid spring and really shone on G Day. He knows the offense, has a solid arm, and fits the mold of a ball distributor that we’re more familiar with in the Todd Monken offense. But Beck only saw action in mop up duty in 2021 (10/23 passing, 2 TD, 2 INT), with his only sustained action against UAB and Charleston Southern. Beck hasn’t taken a snap in Athens when it really matters, and remains a bit of an enigma as a result.

In fact one of the more interesting behind the scenes position battles on the roster this fall may be whether Beck can hold off talented redshirt freshman Brock Vandagriff for the backup spot. Vandagriff is undeniably talented, with a rocket arm, solid build, and now a year of experience in the system. The player who’s kneeling out games late in 2022 may be the player with the inside track to replace Bennett full time in 2023, irrespective of any mayhem that may befall him in 2022.

Also in the discussion is true freshman Gunner Stockton. The former Rabun County standout finished his high school career as the Peach State’s most decorated prep passer. In some ways, his game embodies the best of what Bennett, Beck, and Vandagriff bring to the table.

I don’t expect to see Stockton jump to the #2 spot in 2022. But if he does, I think he stands as the prohibitive favorite for next season.

In short, the roster dictates a year of Stetson Bennett flinging the ball around to a cadre of talented targets for a full season. Recent history suggests that may not be what we actually get. Until later…

Go ‘Dawgs!!!