Gene Frenette: Stetson Bennett becoming Georgia living legend best part of Bulldogs' title run

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  • Stetson Bennett
    American football quarterback
  • Kirby Smart
    Kirby Smart
    American football player and coach

The best storyline coming out of Georgia’s national championship win over Alabama is that underappreciated quarterback Stetson Bennett now becomes a Bulldogs’ legend for the rest of his life.

Instead of Bennett flirting with the infamy of Georgia losing 18-13 — the score after the Crimson Tide went ahead with 10:14 remaining – and all the likely second-guessing of coach Kirby Smart not inserting backup JT Daniels, the former walk-on QB played the conquering hero by responding with two touchdown passes.

Here’s what got lost in the euphoria of the Bulldogs’ 33-18 victory and first national title in 41 years: Bennett broke the hearts of ‘Bama fans the way former Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa did four years earlier to Georgia on the same stage.

Remember that on 2nd-and-26, Tide receiver DeVonta Smith caught a 41-yard TD pass to the left side of the end zone from Tagovailoa to beat Georgia in overtime of the CFP title game. Now fast forward to Monday night at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium. On 2nd-and-18, Bennett fired a 40-yard TD pass to the right side of the end zone to Adonai Mitchell for the critical go-ahead score that enabled the ‘Dogs to remove the ‘Bama curse.

That’s a football script right out of Hollywood. Whether you’re a Georgia supporter or simply wanted to see something different than Nick Saban raising another trophy, watching Bennett, whose parents graduated from Georgia, break down in tears of joy on the sideline was television gold.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV deservedly took time to celebrate winning the CFP national title, 33-18 over Alabama, and basking in the glow of holding the championship trophy.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV deservedly took time to celebrate winning the CFP national title, 33-18 over Alabama, and basking in the glow of holding the championship trophy.

Just imagine if Bennett’s previous fumble that led to a ‘Bama go-ahead TD would have resulted in a different outcome. Then he and Smart would be second-guessed forever.

That scenario wasn’t lost on former Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity, who hired Smart and is now CEO/president of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, as he watched the Bulldogs' celebration.

“That’s one thing about a game like that, it brings memories that will last forever,” McGarity said. “The 1980 team has a reunion every five years. Guys like Herschel [Walker], Buck [Belue], Lindsay Scott and team captain Frank Ros will always be considered the giants in Bulldogs’ history.

“Stetson Bennett? There’s no question he will now be mentioned with those guys.”

As for McGarity, he takes a measure of pride in making the tough move of firing two-time SEC championship coach Mark Richt after the 2015 season, then hiring a defensive-minded coach with Georgia ties in Smart. There was plenty of skepticism at the time, but McGarity never wavered from his top choice.

“I just felt down deep Kirby could take us to places we hadn’t been before,” said McGarity. “The other candidates were on the B list and they knew that when I spoke with them.”

It turned out to be a pretty Smart hire, considering Georgia just won it all with a quarterback many Bulldogs’ fans were probably doubting before he delivered the kill shot that toppled a ‘Bama dynasty.

No matter what Bennett’s immediate future holds, and it may involve playing elsewhere next season as a redshirt senior, his clutch performance on college football’s biggest stage will live in Georgia lore forever. . . .

Bill O'Brien had Jaguars' number

Jaguars’ fans have expressed much displeasure about the possibility of Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who is reportedly being trumpeted by GM Trent Baalke, becoming the team’s next head coach. But in his six-plus seasons as the Houston Texans’ head coach, O’Brien certainly had the Jaguars’ number, compiling a 10-2 record against them and sweeping the season series five times.

In franchise history, the only opposing coaches (minimum 10 games) with records approaching O’Brien’s dominance against the Jaguars are Bill Belichick (9-1), Tony Dungy (10-5) and Jeff Fisher (19-14). . . .

By no means am I advocating an O’Brien hire or Baalke staying on board, but would Jaguars’ fans really care if owner Shad Khan put them in charge and a year or two from now, the team was having success? Let’s be honest: fans would put up with Kim Kardashian as GM and Kanye West as head coach if the team was winning. . . .

A happy 67th birthday Sunday to former Detroit Lions/Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and a happy 42nd birthday celebrated Friday by Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, both potential future Jaguars' head coaches. . . .

NFL trivia: Can you name the only three coaches in history to have lost a Super Bowl with one team and come back to win the Lombardi Trophy with another? Answer at bottom. . . .

Jaguars' next London opponent?

We won’t know for three months which opponent the Jaguars will get in London next season, but based on history, you can probably eliminate Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas and Baltimore because those would be rematches for fans in the UK. Another doubtful is the Las Vegas Raiders since that franchise has played in Jacksonville only once since Khan purchased the team a decade ago.

That leaves three viable options in the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Tennessee Titans, and if I had to rank the likely opponent, it’d be in that order. . . .

After falling to 0-3 in SEC play for the first time in 40 years, albeit against three Top 25 opponents in Alabama, Auburn and LSU, the biggest concern for Florida basketball coach Mike White has to be his team’s lack of resiliency. In a 64-58 loss at home Wednesday to 12th-ranked LSU, the Gators had multiple chances to take the lead in the second half, but came up empty every time while missing 7 of 11 free throws.

White has leaned on a half-dozen transfers to retool his roster, but none of them have provided UF’s best player, Colin Castleton, with any kind of consistent support. The Gators (9-6) are trying to win with grit and defense, which gives them little margin for error, and have yet to acquire the mental toughness needed to push through inevitable scoring droughts.

Even with an overhauled roster, Florida going to the NCAA tournament was considered a given. That looks pretty iffy right now because White has a team that is playing below the sum of its parts. . . .

For the second time in the history of the Jacksonville University-University of North Florida men’s hoops rivalry, the Ospreys will attempt to pull even in the series Saturday at UNF Arena. JU coach Jordan Mincy will make his debut in the River City Rumble, which the Dolphins lead 19-18. UNF has won 14 of the past 18 meetings under coach Matthew Driscoll, who holds a 17-10 overall record in the crosstown rivalry. . . .

Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich have done a terrific job building their roster, but how can they look at Carson Wentz after last week’s stunning 26-11 loss to the Jaguars and not think this: “Uh, oh! We got to do something about our quarterback situation.” . . .

For the first time in his career, Baltimore Ravens and former Jaguars’ defensive lineman Calais Campbell saw his production take a big dip this season. He had only 1.5 sacks and four tackles for losses in 15 games. Campbell, 35, has 93.5 career sacks and is an unrestricted free agent, so it’s no guarantee he gets to the coveted century mark even if somebody signs him to play one or two more years. . . .

Trivia answer: The coaches who lost a Super Bowl with one team and returned to win it with another are Don Shula (lost with Baltimore Colts, won twice with Miami Dolphins), Dick Vermeil (lost with Philadelphia Eagles, won with St. Louis Rams) and Andy Reid (lost with Philadelphia Eagles, won with Kansas City Chiefs). . . .

Pigskin forecast: Buffalo Bills over New England Patriots by 7 (hand-warmers); Cincinnati Bengals over Las Vegas Raiders by 1 (overdue playoff win); Kansas City Chiefs over Pittsburgh Steelers by 10 (Big Ben curtain calls); Tampa Bay Buccaneers over Philadelphia Eagles by 4 (Tom Brady survivor guides); San Francisco 49ers over Dallas Cowboys by 3 (Auld Lang Syne renditions); Arizona Cardinals over Los Angeles Rams by 1 (memorable MNF finish). Last week: 2 right, 4 Brandon Staley thought processes.

gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Gene Frenette: Stetson Bennett's rise highlights Georgia's football title

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