Alabama Football: Stopping Stetson Bennett in SEC title game

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, who Alabama football will see this Saturday in the SEC championship, has truly come a long way. Bennett took a winding, unconventional journey, assisted by injuries and opt-outs, to find himself as the UGA signal caller in 2020. Even then, his physical limitations and perceived lack of confidence made him a punchline throughout the conference.

Georgia fell well short of its 2020 preseason expectations, in part due to Bennett’s inability to capitalize on opposing defenses that essentially took away the run and forced him to make plays.

Alabama football: Bennett makes Georgia’s offense work

This season has gone differently. When JT Daniels went down with an injury, Bennett once again became the starting quarterback, much to the dismay of Georgia fans. He’s looked like a different player in 2021, taking the job by the throat and keeping it even after Daniels made a full recovery. Bennett has appeared calm, confident, and in command, leading the Bulldogs to an unblemished regular season.

Even with a group of receivers who were backups on the preseason depth chart, Bennett has thrown the ball pretty well. He prefers to go vertical to redshirt freshman Ladd McConkey, as well as Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson, who have both battled injuries for much of the season.

In the intermediate range, Stetson Bennett’s favorite targets are freshman tight end Brock Bowers and freshman wideout Adonai Mitchell. Bowers has been a big-time playmaker since his first game in a Georgia uniform, and leads the team with 37 catches for 652 yards and 10 touchdowns. Georgia doesn’t have another receiver that even comes close to Bowers in any of these stat categories.

Bennett also likes to check down to massive tight end Darnell Washington and running backs James Cook and Kenny McIntosh. Junior receiver George Pickens made his season debut against Georgia Tech, and there is some speculation among Georgia fans that he could actually take on a meaningful role at some point this postseason. Pickens was Georgia’s leading receiver over the previous 2 seasons before tearing his ACL in the spring.

Bennett has also been an effective runner, adding another element to the Georgia offense. He has run for 240 yards on 6.3 yards per carry, and the threat of him scrambling puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses.

Alabama football: Secondary must show & prove

The Alabama secondary hasn’t played particularly well this season. While I still wouldn’t call Bennett an elite passer, the Tide has surrendered significant yardage to such players as Zach Calzada and KJ Jefferson, who I consider to be in a similar sphere.

Ideally, the Tide will be able to force Georgia into passing situations. At this point, Alabama will have to pressure Bennett and prevent him from escaping the pocket and creating positive yardage with his legs.

The Alabama secondary will have to play opportunistic football, which it hasn’t always done this season. The Bama defense features a fearsome pass rush, which is something Stetson Bennett has not faced this season.

When pressured, Bennett may make some critical errors, such as trying to force throws into coverage. Alabama also deflected several balls at the line of scrimmage against the undersized Bennett last year, including one that led to an interception. If Bennett puts the ball up for grabs this week, the Alabama defense has the opportunity to capitalize and generate turnovers.

Josh Jobe did just that in the Iron Bowl, grabbing his second interception of the season off a deflected TJ Finley pass. Jobe has fought injuries and been criticized harshly for his struggles this season, which have included giving up big plays and being frequently penalized. Still, he created a huge turnover when the Alabama defense absolutely needed one.

Opposite Jobe, we may see freshman Kool-aid McKinstry. McKinstry had a sack and a pass breakup in the Iron Bowl, both ending Auburn drives. He has played well this season and will have to have another big game if Jalyn Armour-Davis (hip) is still out.

Safeties Jordan Battle, Demarco Hellams, and Daniel Wright are all better tacklers than they are in coverage. They will have to avoid getting drawn in by play-action fakes and letting Georgia receivers get behind them.

Alabama football fans are used to seeing less-than-elite quarterbacks have career games against the Tide. If the Alabama defense can make Georgia one-dimensional, it should be able to unleash its pass rush and prevent Stetson Bennett from getting comfortable and having a good game.