As Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken made a point about quarterback Stetson Bennett’s maturation recently, he started bringing up NFL veterans. Aaron Rodgers. Tom Brady.
And Ryan Fitzpatrick.
If the last name sounds out of place, it shouldn’t. Monken was Fitzpatrick’s offensive coordinator with the Bucs in 2017-18. And if Monken and the No. 3 Bulldogs are going to end four decades of futility by knocking off No. 1 Alabama in Monday’s College Football Playoff national championship, a little Fitzmagic wouldn’t hurt.
Both Monken quarterbacks are easy to dismiss — Bennett for his size (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) and walk-on background, Fitzpatrick for his Harvard education and glorious beard.
Bennett isn’t the most talented quarterback on his roster. Fitzpatrick usually isn’t, either, which is why he was a backup to begin his stints with the Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets and, of course, Bucs.
But Fitzpatrick has spent 17 seasons in the NFL because he is capable enough when opportunity strikes. He has thrown more career completions than Russell Wilson for more yards than Cam Newton and more touchdowns than Ryan Tannehill.
Monken squeezed an unforgettable stretch of Fitzmagic out of the journeyman when he opened 2018 with three consecutive games of at least 400 yards and three touchdowns. Now Monken is on the verge of an even more magical accomplishment with Bennett at Georgia.
Bennett started last season only because USC transfer JT Daniels was hurt and Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman opted out. Bennett didn’t begin this season as the starter, either; Daniels did. The Bulldogs thought highly enough of Daniels in the preseason that they showcased him at SEC media days.
Then Daniels went down with a lat injury in Week 2, and Bennett tied a school record with five touchdown passes.
Though Bennett has been overshadowed by Georgia’s historically strong defense and the five-star quarterback he supplanted, his progress shouldn’t be overlooked. He went from getting benched against the Gators in Florida’s 16-point win in 2020 to beating them by 27 this season. His passing efficiency jumped almost 50 points to 176.8. That’s fourth nationally and is on track to break former Plant High star Aaron Murray’s Georgia record (174.8).
Bennett’s dual-threat ability has helped Georgia average 39 points per game — ninth in the country and the second-highest in Bulldogs history (behind the 2014 team with Nick Chubb, Todd Gurley and Sony Michel).
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Monken attributes some of Bennett’s growth to the comfort and knowledge gained from a second year in a system. Some of it comes from maturity you can only get through experience, the way Rodgers, Brady and, yes, Fitzpatrick have gained in the league.
“There’s just the reps that you get in practice and then games that get into your memory bank, whether they’re scars or things you’ve solved or decision-making,” Monken said.
Monken left out another key component to Bennett’s progress: his coach.
Running back James Cook said Monken is the most detail-oriented of the three Georgia coordinators he has played under. Bennett called his meeting-room discussions with Monken “invaluable.”
“Just sitting there trying to be a sponge, trying to write down everything I can write down, trying to learn from somebody who has been in this business for 35 years at the highest level,” Bennett said. “Obviously I’m a lot better than I was last year.”
But is that good enough? It wasn’t last month when Bennett threw a pair of interceptions —including a fourth-quarter pick-six —in Georgia’s 41-24 SEC championship loss to Alabama. Though the defeat wasn’t all on Bennett’s shoulders, he had a role in it.
Bennett rebounded with a three-touchdown, no-interception performance in the Bulldogs’ Orange Bowl demolition of Michigan. It was enough to remind the Bulldogs and anyone else that he shouldn’t be overlooked. Bennett is good enough to win a big game.
“He has everything we need to be successful offensively,” Monken said.
Maybe even a sprinkle of Fitzmagic.
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