Stetson Bennett’s ‘mental lapses’ costly in Georgia’s SEC Championship loss to Alabama

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  • Stetson Bennett
    American football quarterback
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) gets up after being sacked during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game between Georgia and Alabama in Atlanta, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Alabama won 41-24.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) gets up after being sacked during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game between Georgia and Alabama in Atlanta, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Alabama won 41-24.

ATLANTA — During the media timeout ahead of the fourth quarter in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game, Georgia quarterback JT Daniels was seen throwing on the field, right next to Stetson Bennett.

Daniels, the former five-star quarterback who transferred from USC many moons ago hasn’t started a game for the Bulldogs since Vanderbilt on Sept. 25. He had only played in three games since then, appearing in the game when Bennett had done enough to secure the win.

At the time, UGA was down to Alabama 31-17 and the offense had turned it over twice since its last score — once via a turnover on downs and once by Bennett throwing an interception.

Still, Bennett saw the field for the rest of the game, finishing with 340 passing yards on 29-of-48, three touchdowns and two interceptions, one being returned for a Crimson Tide touchdown.

“The first (interception) was a bad decision,” Bennett said. “The second one I didn’t see the safety driving. You can’t have those two plays against players like this. They made us pay for it.”

More: 5 takeaways from Georgia football's loss against Alabama in the SEC Championship game

Glimpses of the 2020 loss in Tuscaloosa circulated the minds of fans in Mercedes-Benz Stadium as there were several similarities between Saturday’s 41-24 loss in the SEC Championship and last season’s 41-24 loss in mid-October.

But for now, head coach Kirby Smart still believes Bennett is the quarterback to lead Georgia to their first national championship win in 41 years.

“I have the utmost confidence in Stetson Bennett,” Smart said after the game. “I think he did some really nice things tonight. We go and re-evaluate everything all the time. He played well. Tough environment we put him in defensively and we have to be able to run the ball and have a little bit of semblance of balance.”

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Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) and Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) warm up before the start the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game between Georgia and Alabama in Atlanta, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) and Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) warm up before the start the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game between Georgia and Alabama in Atlanta, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Bennett started off strong, completing 10 of his first 12 throws, including a 5-yard touchdown to Darnell Washington to begin the second quarter. He hit nine different receivers in the process.

The play calling was smart, sprinkling some runs from James Cook, Kenny McIntosh and Zamir White.

More: With top prize still in play, how will Georgia football respond to another Alabama loss?

But in four red zone trips, UGA came away with just 10 points.

“We just have to finish (the drive),” Bennett said. “We had opportunities. We were moving it, driving the ball all four times and just can’t throw picks. Have to execute better.”

It didn’t help Bennett and the offense that their counterparts put together five-straight scoring drives. Alabama had four drives in the second quarter. They scored three touchdowns and a field goal to give themselves a 31-17 halftime lead.

“I felt there were times tonight where we were getting into a scoring contest because our defense couldn’t get stops,” Smart said. “You don’t want to have to do that.”

Bennett completed 60% of his throws and finished with a passer rating of 132.2, threw three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed for 11 yards.

“We didn't play our best game today,” Bennett said. “They did. Can’t turn the ball over, mental lapses can’t happen. That’s something we’re going to work on starting tomorrow and hopefully we’re going to get ready for whatever team we play next.”

More: Final commentary: Alabama ends Georgia football's undefeated season in SEC Championship

It’s the second-straight trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium where Georgia leaves being outclassed at the quarterback position. In 2019, LSU’s Joe Burrow threw for 349 yards and four touchdowns in the Tigers’ 37-10 SEC Championship win.

“We moved the ball and just (had) mental lapses,” Bennett said.

"When you do that, they make you pay. Several third downs, the two interceptions. You just can’t have those against a team of this caliber. We had it and they made us pay for it.”

Now, Smart and the Bulldogs will have several weeks to rest, prepare and plan for their next opponent.

“We have a decision to make every week at every position,” Smart said. “I certainly have a lot of confidence in Stetson and I have a lot of confidence in JT, too.”

McClain Baxley is a recruiting reporter for the Athens Banner-Herald and the USA TODAY Network. Reach him by email at mbaxley@onlineathens.com or on Twitter at @mcclainbaxley.

This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Kirby Smart: ‘I certainly have a lot of confidence in Stetson'

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