Remember the days of questioning Kirby Smart’s quarterback decisions? Many wondered whether it was what would hold him back – an inability to play the right guy.
Well, those folks have quieted off a bit the last few years with a pair of National Championship trophies in Athens, and Smart has taken notice.
“I haven’t gotten it much. It seems like I got it a lot more in year’s past,” Smart said on Monday in a radio interview with 680 The Fan. “I’ll be honest with you, there’s lot of questions about everything. There were questions last year about our defense losing eight guys drafted. I don’t really listen to the questions.”
“The questions I pose myself are much more difficult than the questions I receive from people about the quarterback and anything like that,” he continued. “Nobody was more scrutinized and questioned after we lost the SEC Championship about JT Daniels and Stetson Bennett, and I stood firm on that. It wouldn’t have mattered whether we won the next game or not, what mattered is, ‘Did we make the best decision for our team to win?’ Ultimately that’s what I’m trying to do. What gives our team the best chance to win?”
Continuing to roll with Bennett ultimately proved to be the right answer in 2021. Daniels started three games for the Bulldogs early in the season, leading to them a win over No. 3 Clemson in the opener before missing the next game due to an oblique injury.
That cracked open the door for Bennett, who started in his place against UAB and played well. When Daniels was once again sidelined, this time for a strained lat, Bennett once again started in his place and never looked back.
An ugly loss in the SEC Championship Game to Alabama left Georgia fans once again questioning whether or not Bennett was the right man for the job. He had done enough to lead them to an undefeated regular season, but was he enough of a threat offensively to keep up in a shootout or was Daniels, who had proven he could put up points on several different occasions over the course of seven career starts in red and black, better fit to do so in the College Football Playoffs?
Smart stuck with Bennett, and it paid off in the fourth quarter of the National Championship Game against the same Crimson Tide team, leading the Bulldogs on a pair of touchdown drives to put them ahead and bring a title back to Athens for the first time in 41 years.
Then, Bennett returned for a sixth season, and he did it again. This time, with Daniels having transferred out of the program, there was much less questioning of the quarterback decisions – and rightfully so for Georgia’s first 4,000-yard passer in program history, a Heisman Trophy finalist and winner of Offensive MVP in all three of the postseason games the Bulldogs played.
With Bennett off to the NFL, drafted in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Rams, quarterback is once again a question that Smart is having to answer. Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff are the two biggest competitors for the starting spot with Gunner Stockton also in the mix. The trio dueled during the spring, and Beck appears to be the favorite.
With all three as talented as they are – and the need for depth at the position – Smart and his staff had to be cognizant to keep all three happy and out from the transfer portal in the post-spring practice window. He doesn’t think that’s any different than other offseason in his coaching career however.
“It was no different five or six years ago. You could leave then, you could go then and say there was a hardship, say ‘I have this issue, I’m gone,’ and go play. I don’t know that that’s changed. That was always the fear,” Smart told former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy on his show with former Auburn offensive lineman Cole Cubelic. “It’s much more talked about. It’s much more prominent. The word portal I think has become everybody’s favorite word. Kids want to go shop and find the best place. It happens more, but it happened before, especially at quarterback.”
“For us it’s about getting the best guy. I think kids have bought into the development factor,” Smart continued. “The backups and the guy that may not be the starter, they’re saying, ‘Yeah, but Stetson wasn’t either and look what happened with him.’ He waited his turn, he was a three and he ended up making it.”
All three of Georgia’s quarterbacks that were with the team in the spring will be with the Bulldogs in the fall. None decided to the enter the transfer portal, and that’s great new for Georgia to give the Bulldogs both options and depth, something that seems rare in today’s world of College Football.
So, while the questions will keep on coming for Kirby Smart about who the starting quarterback may be when Georgia lines up against UT-Martin on September 2nd, fans should have faith from the way he’s handled quarterback questions before and trust that he’ll answer any quarterback questions again in similar fashion, one that tends to work out for his team over time.
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