Monday April 22nd, 2024 3:08PM

Georgia's Bennett continues to prove he is a big-game player

By Charles Odum AP Sports Writer

ATHENS, Ga. — In the biggest games, Stetson Bennett seems to rise to the occasion and above his often more heralded counterparts.

Bennett threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score as No. 1 Georgia shut down Hendon Hooker and the Vols’ high-powered offense to win a Southeastern Conference showdown of the nation’s top-ranked teams 27-13 Saturday.

After leading the Bulldogs to a national title last season, Bennett improved to 23-3 as a starter at Georgia.

“Competitive excellence, competitive toughness,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart when asked about Bennett’s ability to shine on the grandest stages.

“He’s a winner. Let’s be honest. The guy knows how to win.”

Bennett passed for 257 yards, completing 17 of 25 passes. He had a 13-yard scoring run in the matchup against Hooker, regarded as a Heisman Trophy favorite. Maybe Bennett should be now?

Bennett insisted his only motivation was for the team’s hopes of returning to the SEC championship game, not for his personal validation “because at the end of the day we’re playing for the East and if we lost it’s a lower percentage we’re playing in Atlanta.”

Added Bennett: “I don’t really care about quarterback vs. quarterback.”

Georgia (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) turned the 25th regular-season matchup of the top two teams in the AP poll into a rout that made clear the defending national champions are still the team to beat.

“I kind of feel like it was a statement win,” said Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey, who had five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.

In a deafening and soggy Sanford Stadium, Georgia led 27-6 before Tennessee scored its first touchdown with 4:15 remaining.

Hooker, whose Heisman hopes were bolstered by a win over Alabama last month, passed for only 195 yards for Tennessee (8-1, 4-1). Hooker was sacked six times by star defensive tackle Jalen Carter and the Bulldogs.

Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt said Georgia’s defense was “way more physical than Alabama.”

Georgia’s special teams put more pressure on Tennessee. Punter Brett Thorson nailed a 75-yarder that went out of bounds at the Tennessee 1 in the first quarter. Jack Podlesny kicked two field goals.

Hooker threw an interception, lost a fumble that nearly resulted in a safety for Georgia and didn’t throw a touchdown pass.

““They are a great ball team,” Hooker said. “They played extremely hard, and they got the win today. We have got to clean some things up. It is a learning process.”

The Volunteers came in averaging almost 50 points per game.

The Volunteers rode that Alabama victory to the top spot in the first College Football Playoff ranking. Georgia was No. 3 in last week’s CFP ranking.

That will change Tuesday.

The Vols were held to two first-half field goals as Georgia took a 24-6 halftime lead. Rain in the second half made it only more difficult to move against the Bulldogs’ defense.

Bennett threw scoring passes of 37 yards to McConkey and 5 yards to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint in the first half.

There were more big plays in Georgia’s passing game. Bennett had completions of 52 yards to Arian Smith and 49 yards to running back Kenny McIntosh.

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