Stetson Bennett led the Georgia Bulldogs back from a 38-24 fourth-quarter deficit to an improbably 42-41 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes to advance the Bulldogs to their second consecutive CFP national championship game. In the game Bennett passed for nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns and zero interceptions. But in head coach Kirby Smart’s opinion it was an uneven performance by his QB, which caused Smart to say point blank he has to play better going forward.
“Ohio State probably deserved to win the game” -Kirby Smartpic.twitter.com/j6naNge51A
— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) January 1, 2023
In the hoopla of his team’s postgame celebration, Smart, a Nick Saban mentee sounded like his former boss talking with ESPN.
“Well he showed great competitive character. But he’s gotta play within our system and he’s gotta do what he’s coached to do, or you can’t win games. He didn’t get those opportunities until the defense stopped them. We were fortunate to stop them a couple times. He must play better if we expect to win the next one.”
Bennett was sensational in the first and fourth quarters, going 19-22 for 300 yards and three touchdowns. In the second and third quarters he struggled going just 4 of 12 for 98 yards and his lone interception of the night. Bennett is a dual-threat signal-caller capable of making plays that aren’t there, but that’s not what Smart and offensive coordinator Todd Monken want unless he’s forced to to do so. Doing it on his own just didn’t sit well with Smart and in Nick Saban fashion he let his 25-year-old veteran quarterback know about it.
Kirby Smart was critical of QB Stetson Bennett despite winning the CFP semifinal:
“He must play better if we expect to win the next one.”
— On3 (@On3sports) January 1, 2023
Bennett Has Overachieved: He Agreed With Smart
Speaking with reporters himself, Bennett agreed with his head coach’s assessment.
“Got to go back and look at the tape and see what we could clean up because it felt like there was a 30-minute period there where I just played bad football. So we’ve got to fix that.”
Exactly what you’d expect a veteran like Bennett to say. Despite the big win, he knows he’s gotta be better.
Growing up right near the Athens school, Bennett spurned scholarship offers to walk on at Georgia in 2017. When five-star quarterback Justin Fields signed with the Bulldogs, Bennett transferred to Jones County Junior College. He spent a season there, and returned the following season to be the Bulldogs backup after Fields jetted for greener pastures at Ohio State. Bennett played the backup role until last season, when he stepped in as the starter leading the Bulldogs to their first championship since 1980. His story has Hollywood movie written all over it.
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) January 1, 2023
Bulldogs Looking To Become Repeat Champion In 10 Seasons
With a win over the surprising TCU Horned Frogs in the CFP national championship game, the Bulldogs would become the first team to repeat as national champions since the 2011-12 Alabama Crimson Tide, which Smart was the defensive coordinator for then.
Smart has built his UGA team in the image that those Alabama teams were built. Dominant defense, strong running games and a game manager at quarterback who won’t lose you the game, and that’s why he was hard on Bennett following the win.
How we feeling? pic.twitter.com/qENOGt6JqK
— Georgia Bulldogs (@UGAAthletics) January 1, 2023
In essence, a UGA win would solidify their standing as the premier football program in the country, replacing arch-nemesis Alabama.