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All Georgia’s Stetson Bennett does is deliver, even if he’s not a tantalizing NFL prospect

Stetson Bennett may not be high on NFL draft radar, but all he’s done at Georgia is win.

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All Georgia's Stetson Bennett does is deliver, even if he's not a tantalizing NFL prospect

If you want to understand Stetson Bennett’s career, look no further than his final pass between the hedges at Sanford Stadium in the fourth quarter of Georgia’s rivalry game against Georgia Tech last Saturday. Buried deep in his own territory, Bennett takes the snap, drops back into the pocket — way back, within a step of his own goal line — and then surveys the field.

He’s got time back there, so much time, enough time to start writing Christmas cards. He spots running back Kenny McIntosh downfield on a wheel route, then drops the pass right into McIntosh’s arms. The pass isn’t a long one — maybe 35 yards in the air — but McIntosh turns it into an 83-yard gain. It’s the exclamation point on both a blowout victory and a Dawg-legend career.

Given all the time, room and surrounding talent to succeed, Bennett does exactly that. Sometimes barely, sometimes with mistakes that take years off the lives of Georgia fans … but success is success however you get there.

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“He’s in full command of the offense, full command,” LSU head coach Brian Kelly said earlier this week. “That goes to his coaching, his teaching, his preparation obviously. It’s apparent in watching him how confident he is as the quarterback.”

As Georgia heads into a perfunctory SEC championship against LSU and preps for a national title defense, Bennett continues to do exactly what he’s done the last two-plus seasons: quietly and competently fly the brutally efficient fighter jet that is the Georgia offense. His 3,151 yards passing rank 18th in the NCAA. His 16 passing touchdowns rank seventh … in the SEC. He draws little love for his individual game — he didn’t even make the list of Heisman sleepers before this season began, and his Heisman odds even now are at 100-1. Even his own coach, Kirby Smart, has called him “one of the least respected good players there is in this country.”

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 26: The Spike Squad shows their support for Stetson Bennett #13 of the Georgia Bulldogs during a game between Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on November 26, 2022 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
The Spike Squad shows their support for Stetson Bennett of the Georgia Bulldogs during a game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. (Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

All Stetson Fleming Bennett IV does is deliver. That’s led to the most predictable nickname possible — “The Mailman” — but it fits. Over the last two seasons, he’s won 25 of the 26 games he’s started for Georgia. He’s fended off challengers for his job and calls for his benching. He survived a national championship game that had many Georgia fans calling for his head at halftime. This year, he’s thrived through sputtering starts and in-game chaos, like the time he literally puked on the field both before and after throwing a touchdown pass against South Carolina earlier this season.

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“What does it say about his character that he stuck around, and he kept working to get better?” Smart said on former Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s SiriusXM show earlier this year. “That’s what you’re supposed to do in life, overcome hurdles and obstacles.”

Along the way, Georgia has pounded opponents into paste, or at the very least, into submission. The Dawgs haven’t lost a regular-season SEC game since a 44-28 loss to Florida in November 2020, and haven’t lost to anyone since falling to Alabama 362 days ago in the SEC championship. The Dawgs, as you may have heard, got their revenge on the Tide in the national championship game, Georgia’s first national title in 41 years.

All the while, Bennett has trundled along, sometimes spectacular, sometimes infuriating, but always able to make the play when it’s needed the most, often at the last possible minute. It’s perfectly in character for a guy who once walked on to the Georgia team, then proceeded to use transfer, redshirting and COVID-19 extensions to stretch college football eligibility rules to their breaking point.

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“We as coaches did everything we could to not give him the opportunity and he just kept banging away at the door. And he was very persistent,” Smart said last week. “Thank goodness we decided to bring him back when we were sitting in a tough quarterback situation … He saw it as an opportunity to come in and play and he took advantage of it.”

Bennett has been around the Georgia program in some form or fashion since the fall of 2017. How long has that been? Long enough that Bennett had transferred out of Georgia for a year because the team recruited a high schooler by the name of Justin Fields — a guy who’s now quarterbacking the Chicago Bears.

All that movement means Bennett is old, so very very old. He turned 25 the day before Georgia whomped Florida this year, which makes him geologically ancient in college football terms. Here’s some perspective: Bennett is older than Justin Herbert, older than Tua Tagovailoa, older than Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones. More than a dozen quarterbacks who have taken snaps in the NFL this season are younger than Bennett, granting him a rare combination of experience and wisdom not often found in college quarterbacks.

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“Facing Bennett in college is kind of like facing [Tom] Brady in the NFL, in that he’s seen so much,” Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White said in November. “He’s got so much experience … He’s the best QB, probably, we’ve faced all year.” Three days after that, Bennett and the Dawgs sweated out a 16-6 win over Kentucky — Bennett threw for just 116 yards, no touchdowns and an interception — but when you’re undefeated, getting that next W is more important than looking pretty.

“He’s a guy that has mastered the position,” Kelly said. “He’s just smart, careful with the football. The confidence level that he brings brings up the level of confidence around him and all the playmakers that he has.”

That’s the key to Bennett’s success, giving his playmakers the chance to make plays. Whether it’s McIntosh, receiver Ladd McConkey, bruising tight end Brock Bowers, or any of the other half-dozen worldbreakers on Georgia’s offense, Bennett knows how to get them the ball in space and give them room to wreck shop all over opposing defenses.

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“I’m not as confident in everything I do as I am in football,” Bennett conceded earlier this year. “It’s not an ignorant confidence, like ‘I believe I can do anything.’ But I believe I can play football really well, and that’s from the work that I’ve spent over these past however many years I’ve been playing football.”

He’s also used NIL endorsements to grant himself a new nickname of sorts. Thanks to the Georgia Dairy Council, the Mailman became the Milkman:

Look, not everything the guy does is great, OK? It’s all part of the greater whole.

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It’s anyone’s guess how Bennett will fare against LSU on Saturday; the Tigers harassed Alabama’s Bryce Young into his least productive game of his year, then let Texas A&M’s Conner Weigman pick them apart last week.

“He has played some formidable, good opponents, and he’s played really well against those teams,” Smart said earlier this week. But even Smart, even now, couldn’t resist being a bit conditional in his praise of Bennett: “He’s made a couple of decisions I think he would like to have back, but he’s also made some really, really spectacular plays. Sometimes when you put a lot on a player, you may get some of that. You may get a mistake. You may get something he wishes he had back.”

After Bennett’s final game in a Georgia uniform, whether it comes in a semifinal or in the championship game, his future gets a lot murkier. The “Mailman” nickname sets him up for a thousand reprises of Scottie Pippen’s “can’t deliver on Sunday” jokes, and NFL draft scouts seem to agree. He’s slowly moved up draft boards — but that comes with a caveat, given that he’s moved from “likely free agent” to “Day 3 pickup.” His intangibles are off the charts, but his physicality isn’t — he’s 5-11 — and, as fellow SEC-turned-NFL traveler Steve Spurrier once noted, there are no Vanderbilts in the NFL.

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“I’ve learned over the years that you’re either going to be the starter and get a chance in the first contract as a first-round pick, maybe an early second-round pick,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay told Paul Finebaum earlier this season, speaking of Bennett, “or we’re now looking for great backups, and maybe once in a while, once every three, four years, someone who emerges as a late-round pick, undrafted player at that quarterback position.”

Whether Bennett will one day carry a clipboard in the NFL, or whether he’ll return home and open an insurance agency or a Kia dealership, his legacy at the University of Georgia is secure. He’s two playoff wins away from another national championship, one that will earn him the most coveted Georgia nickname of all: Damn Good Dawg.

_____

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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