No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 Alabama are set to face off in the 2021 SEC Championship. Here’s a look at the quarterbacks for both teams.
Bennett looks to avenge 2020 loss
Stetson Bennett played another strong game last week against Georgia Tech, capping off a very impressive 2021 regular season. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 255 yards and four touchdowns against the Yellow Jackets, bouncing back from a somewhat shaky performance against Charleston Southern.
However, one of Bennett’s worst performances as the starting quarterback for Georgia came in last year’s matchup with Alabama. Bennett completed just 18 of his 40 pass attempts for 269 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions as Georgia lost 41-24.
Speaking about Bennett’s growth from last season to now, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart emphasized the players around Bennett keeping the quarterback out of tough positions.
“I think we've seen all good quarterbacks have rough days when the protection is not there. So the first thing you have to do is protect him well,” Smart said. “You have to have a plan. He has to understand the plan. You have to avoid adverse situations. You get yourself in a bunch of 3rd and longs, I don't care who your quarterback is, he's going to struggle because those take longer routes downfield to develop if you're going to try to get a first down.”
Bennett himself echoed similar sentiments when speaking about his growth as a player, emphasizing taking care of the ball and playing to the Bulldogs’ exceptional defense.
“Knowing that incompletions don’t kill you,” Bennett said. “You don’t have to win the game on every play, because you can’t win it on every play. Our defense and the players we have, focusing on them and the strengths of the team, not trying to do it all yourself.”
While this year’s Alabama defense has not been as strong as many in Nick Saban’s time as head coach, it’s still an ultra-talented unit that ranks seventh in the FBS in yards per game allowed with 294.2 and 20th in points per game allowed with 19.92.
While Georgia’s offense has been overshadowed by a dominant defense, the Bulldogs have averaged 40.7 points per game, good for sixth in the FBS. The biggest difference in Bennett’s performance this year has been his improved downfield passing, as his yards per attempt have jumped from 7.6 in 2020 to 10.8 in 2021.
For Bennett, taking care of the football and avoiding turning it over to Alabama’s high-powered offense is the key to getting a victory over the Crimson Tide in Atlanta.
Young hopes to crack Georgia’s historic defense
No offense has scored more than 17 points against Georgia’s defense this season, and if Alabama wants to topple the No. 1 team in the nation, quarterback Bryce Young and the offense will likely need to beat that number.
Alabama’s offense has been explosive all season, averaging 42.7 points per game, so it’ll be the top scoring offense Georgia has faced this season. Young has been outstanding in his first year as the team’s starting quarterback, passing for 3,901 yards and 40 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
Asked about Young, Smart had high praise for his understanding of defensive coverages as well as his pocket presence.
“He's got tremendous spatial awareness,” said Smart. “He sees the field really well, I mean really well. So he feels things and understands where holes are in coverage, and he knows where his targets are. They've done a tremendous job teaching him in understanding coverages and how to attack them. At the end of the day, it's his mobility and his accuracy and his quick release that make him hard to defend.”
Georgia’s defense will need to put consistent pressure on Young to limit his ability to improvise. Young excels at extending plays, and if Georgia allows him to escape the pocket it will allow him to find receivers down the field for big plays.
Auburn sacked Young seven times in last week’s Iron Bowl, but late in the game Young was able to make a few plays off-schedule to keep the Crimson Tide alive, eventually pulling out a 24-22 victory in four overtimes.
"I think it's going to be a great matchup for both sides,” Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker said. “I just think that we have to continue doing what we have been doing all season, and everything will go as planned. That being said, we just got to keep rushing the passer, and it will all fall in place."
Alabama’s offense against Georgia’s defense will be a matchup of two of the top units in the country, and Young’s performance will be the most important in deciding which unit ends up with the advantage on Saturday.