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Peach Bowl Film Preview: Don’t underestimate Stetson Bennett, Georgia’s passing game

Stetson Bennett has been underrated his whole life, which has bled over to Georgia’s passing attack. Underestimating this attack would be a grave mistake for the Buckeyes.

SEC Championship - LSU v Georgia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Georgia Bulldogs are a team built on the backs of five-star recruits, making them incredibly hard to underestimate. At one key position though, they have a constantly overlooked star who is the engine of the entire Georgia offense. That player is Stetson Bennett IV, the quarterback whose story has been told time and time again since he became entrenched as a starter.

Bennett’s pathway to get to where he’s at is part of why opposing fans still overlook the undersized signal-caller. Coming in at a generous 5-foot-11 and an even more generous 195 pounds. His size is not ideal. But he makes up for it with a natural ability to extend plays as well as surprising arm strength.

Georgia’s passing offense is not solely reliant on their unheralded quarterback. They have dynamic tight ends and receivers who do their job well. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken has knack for drawing his players open with horizontal crosses and a play-action passing game. Once the group lulls opponents to sleep, they take shots downfield.

For Ohio State to limit the Bulldogs’ offense, containing Bennett to the pocket is the first place to start. If pressure is brought, making sure rush lanes are maintained is key. If the coverage downfield breaks down and the rush doesn’t get home – which has been a problem for the Buckeyes – Bennett has all the talent to beat them.

Downfield Passing

Georgia is not a dominant downfield passing team, and tries to get their receiving targets the balls on intermediate crossing routes. The few times they do throw down field, they find a lot of success. This is in large part due to Bennett’s arm talent, which is sneaky given his stature. Against teams that play man coverage, Georgia has been much more willing to take big shots downfield.

Tennessee plays man coverage in the same capacity as Ohio State. Georgia’s plan of attack was to challenge the Volunteer defense vertically. The play in itself is a play-action off of split zone, and Bennett has plenty of time to throw. The play develops and the ball is thrown downfield, hitting the receiver running a deep post in stride. This is not the most impressive throw from a quarterback, but it shows Bennett has the arm strength to hurt a defense downfield.

Once again, the Georgia plan of attack against Tennessee was to challenge their cornerbacks vertically. This is a man-beater. McConkey runs an out-and-up, which throws the defender off leaving nothing but space for the Georgia wide out. Ohio State has been bitten by double moves at times this year, and despite Georgia not having dynamic receivers, they consistently win on these routes.

Bennett once again isn’t asked to do something special, but he delivers a strike for another long touchdown.

Intermediate Accuracy

The intermediate area of the field is where quarterbacks distance themselves from the pack. The best can slice up defenses in the 15-25 yard range. Almost every D-I quarterback can chuck it deep and the rest can hit the quick crossers. But between the linebackers and safeties is a true testament to the feel a quarterback has in the game.

The first play that demonstrates what makes Bennett the engine that keeps the Georgia offense moving is an example of high level quarterback play. In the red zone, the field shrinks and that means the passing windows do as well. Georgia lines up in a condensed bunch trips formation to the field side. Three routes are run with the goal to hit the post route behind the defense. Bennett has to get the ball over top of the defender and still give his receiver a chance to come down in bounds with the ball.

In the next play, Bennett has a similar window to throw the ball into. This time the receiver has more room to work. Another unheralded recruit – and now Georgia folk hero – Ladd McConkey is the receiver here. LSU is playing in Cover-3, and this means the window for the post route is between the rotating safety and the corner. Bennett sees the linebacker dropping beneath the receiver, which makes the window even smaller.

The throw Bennett makes here is reserved for the likes of Heisman finalists, and if you had to make a list of quarterbacks who can make this throw consistently, you might not use both your hands. Bennett delivers a ball with enough touch to clear the linebacker and with enough velocity to not allow the corner back into the play. Georgia attacks the middle of the field again, and Bennett’s timing with his receivers are a big reason they are able to find so much success with these throws.

Bennett was a Heisman finalist for a reason, and his development into an upper tier passer at the college level came as a surprise to many. His arm talent surprised me quite a bit when I started diving more into Georgia’s offense. Bennett can sling it. When pressured he isn’t always consistent, but from a clean pocket he is as dangerous as anybody.

In the play below, LSU is in man-coverage, and this is where Ohio State is going to need to be at their best. The LSU defender responsible for the tight end loses his leverage and gets beat up field. Bennett throws the ball on time and on target for a touchdown. Georgia is trying to attack the middle of the field regularly in their passing game, and they do that effectively.

Ability to Extend Plays

One of the aspects that makes the Georgia offense dangerous is Bennett’s escapability inside and outside the pocket. Bennett is not physically imposing, and teams are able to corral him with ease if they are able to get their hands on him. The issue is teams have a lot of trouble containing him due to his speed.

Ohio State was unable to keep contain on both athletic quarterbacks they played this season, and Bennett might be better than both. In this first play, we can see how Tennessee is unable to catch Bennett. He gets the corner and isn’t able to make a throw down field, but he is able to beat the defense to the pylon for a touchdown on 3rd-and-10. This is the third dimension to Georgia’s passing attack, and if all else fails, Bennett is usually able to turn a broken play into a positive gain.

Escapability also allows teams to extend plays, and Georgia is well organized when Bennett breaks the pocket. In the play below, Bennett doesn’t break the pocket. He eludes the rush to give his receiver enough time get across the field. The receiver is covered, but the ball is well-placed for a completion.

Quarterback contain has been an issue for the Buckeyes at times this season, and QBs have been able to find yards in some key situations. Ohio State will need to limit Bennett’s ability to get outside the pocket and remain disciplined in coverage to avoid allowing big plays off script. If the Buckeyes are able to contain Bennett to the pocket and get their hands up at the throw, they can create the conflict needed to impact his accuracy and decision making.

Georgia has dynamic tight ends, solid receivers, and a quarterback who has been undervalued almost the entirety of his career. Despite putting up Heisman finalist numbers, Bennett gets little credit for the success of Georgia’s offense outside of Athens. Most names brought up are that of Brock Bowers and the tight ends, but they are only a part of a very underrated passing attack.

The Monken-designed Bulldog offense is able to mix personnel and attack opposing defenses in different ways. When teams talk about complimentary football, Georgia’s offense fits the bill. Their run game sets up the play-action pass, and the success of the passing game keeps teams on their heels to open up the run game.

Georgia does not have the big name stars outside of Brock Bowers and Stetson Bennett, but underestimating them has gotten teams in trouble this year. Ohio State has unfortunately been unable to stop the last two passing offenses they’ve played. If the Buckeyes choose to play man, they will need to get pressure home to impact the Georgia passing attack. If not, Georgia has shown an uncanny ability to make opposing teams pay on the back of their quarterback.

We didn’t get into the tight ends because, well, no one underestimates them. They are as good as advertised. Ohio State will have plenty of challenges in this game, but make no mistake — underestimating their passing attack would be a grave misstep.