As JT Daniels continues to rehab from a shoulder injury, Stetson Bennett is poised to start at quarterback for the third time this year. For Auburn, Bo Nix had a bounce back performance last week against LSU, and now looks to beat Georgia for the first time in his career.
Bennett likely to start against Auburn
All signs point to Stetson Bennett receiving his third start of the 2021 season against Auburn. JT Daniels is dealing with a muscle injury in his shoulder and has been unable to fully participate in practice this week.
Head coach Kirby Smart said Daniels didn’t do any throwing on Monday but was able to do some “soft toss” on Tuesday.
“As long as it doesn’t bother him then we feel like we’re getting improvement, gradual improvement,” Smart said. “And that’s the key because the last thing I want to do is push the envelope, reinjure, go back, then the constant cycle of that.”
If Bennett gets the start it will be the second consecutive year in which he leads the Bulldogs’ offense against Auburn. Bennett’s first career start was last season against the Tigers when he helped Georgia earn a 27-6 victory.
Bennett played well in that game, completing 17 of 28 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. Offensively, the key to Georgia’s approach in this season’s matchup with Auburn will be managing the game, avoiding crucial mistakes that might give Auburn opportunities on short fields against the stout Georgia defense.
The performance Bennett had last season was exactly what he should hope to replicate this year. He was efficient and safe with the ball, and Georgia was able to lean on its run game and defense to grind out the victory.
Center Sedrick Van Pran spoke about the impact having a veteran quarterback like Bennett or Daniels has on the offense’s mentality.
“I think the great thing that our quarterbacks do is that they definitely add a calming effect into the game,” Van Pran said. “They stay calm, they lead in the right way and in a positive manner. I think just having that veteran experience from all of our quarterbacks just helps calm guys down and keep a level head throughout the game."
Auburn’s defense will be a challenge for a Georgia offense still dealing with injuries at receiver, but Bennett provides a stable veteran who should be able to keep the offense in good situations and manage the game effectively, allowing the run game and defense to lead the way for Georgia.
Bo Nix gets third chance to beat Georgia
Two weeks ago, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix was benched in a game against Georgia State in favor of TJ Finley, who led the Tigers to a comeback and an eventual 34-24 victory over the Panthers.
Nix regained his starting spot the next week as Auburn traveled to Death Valley, where they hadn’t won a game since 1999, to face LSU. Nix was brilliant in the game, accounting for 329 total yards and two touchdowns as Auburn beat LSU 24-19.
Nix’s ability to extend plays and improvise was on full display last week, and as the Georgia defense prepares to face him, there’s been a lot of discussion focused on limiting those plays.
“Just watching the last game that he played against LSU, he went left, right, back, front, then he scored a touchdown, so we have to keep him in the pocket, '' linebacker Channing Tindall said. “He is definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with. I feel like as long as we do our job and try our best to keep him in the pocket and not try to be Superman, I think we can get the job done."
Kirby Smart and his defense have already faced Nix twice in his career, but Smart acknowledged Nix showed a lot of growth in his performance against LSU.
“To do what he did against a really good SEC defense with a lot of tremendous athletes on it, to avoid and escape, and keep your eyes downfield — it puts a lot of pressure on a defense to be able to cover people that long,” Smart said. “I've seen him now; it seems like forever he's been there. I've gone against him now, I guess twice… it seems like he's been there forever.”
In his previous two games against Georgia, Nix has thrown for a total of 422 yards and one touchdown with one interception. He also has 50 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. Last year in particular Georgia did a good job of containing Nix and the Auburn offense, limiting him to 177 passing yards on 40 attempts, and holding Auburn to just 216 total yards.
If Georgia can produce a similar defensive performance to last year’s and limit Nix’s ability to escape the pocket and make big plays, the Bulldogs should be able to control this game and return to Athens with a victory.