Do Not Disturb: Georgia QB Stetson Bennett blocks out noise, delivers as Orange Bowl MVP

Eric J. Wallace
Palm Beach Post

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MIAMI GARDENS — Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV may well find a way to bring flip phones back into style in 2022. 

Just make sure they have a "Do Not Disturb" setting. 

At times maligned for his perceived limitations, particularly after the Bulldogs' lopsided SEC Championship loss to Alabama, Bennett affirmed his place as the leader of the Georgia offense in a 34-11 trouncing of Michigan in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Friday at Hard Rock Stadium. 

Bennett was nearly perfect in picking apart the Wolverines defense to the tune of 307 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He opened the contest with eight straight completions and finished with a gaudy passer rating of 182.9.

The senior quarterback earned Offensive MVP for the 2021 Orange Bowl. 

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Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett celebrates after their win against Michigan in the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal game, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)

Whether leading team meetings this month or trading his iPhone for an archaic cell phone earlier this season, Georgia coaches and players heaped praise on Bennett postgame for his resiliency in ignoring frustrated calls for quarterback alternatives. 

“Stetson as a leader on our offense, he doesn’t let that negativity go to his head," Georgia running back James Cook said. "He doesn’t have social media, he carries a flip phone around and just doesn’t let the negativity get to him.”

Quarterback was one of few points of concern for Georgia in a season in which the Bulldogs were long the consensus No. 1 team nationally. Backed by the nation's top-ranked defense, Bennett rarely faced deficits or needed to expand beyond the role of an offense manager.

Alabama (13-1) changed that discussion by carving up Georgia's once-mighty defense in a 41-24 SEC Championship game victory in early December.

Despite throwing for 340 yards and three touchdowns, Bennett’s two interceptions and the Bulldogs’ overall offensive malaise generated calls for the return of quarterback JT Daniels, a former five-star prospect and USC quarterback who lost the Bulldogs' starting job after suffering an injury early in 2021.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett passes against Michigan during the first half of the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal game, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

On Friday, Bennett flashed the skillset that helped him beat out Daniels for the job with an efficient passing performance and multiple athletic scrambles that converted first downs. 

“I think it’s amazing to have a guy his age block out all the noise and focus harder," Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. "It's almost like every time he hears noise he just focuses harder on the game plan and what he has to do to execute.

"You look at some plays he made out there with his feet, they couldn't account for his mobility ... I'm just really proud of the way he prepped for this game."

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett tosses oranges after their win against Michigan in the Orange Bowl NCAA College Football Playoff semifinal game, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Georgia won 34-11.(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Bennett completed several more passes on-stage during the Bulldogs' postgame trophy celebration, tossing oranges from the Orange Bowl trophy to teammates, coaches and fans on the field at Hard Rock Stadium. 

What once was a roar of criticism and concern from the Georgia fanbase was in the moment overtaken by explosions from confetti cannons, New Year's fireworks and the potential for Georgia's first football national championship since 1980. 

"I didn't go out there and play well today in spite of people," Bennett said. "I came out there and played well and worked hard throughout the few weeks we had off because my teammates needed me to do that, and we needed that to win." 

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