QBs Stetson Bennett, Cade McNamara share more than just a playoff game

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

Georgia football starting quarterback Stetson Bennett and Michigan starter Cade McNamara are similar than people realize.

When Georgia faces the Michigan Wolverines at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Friday, all eyes will be on the quarterbacks as both hold the keys to their teams’ respective opportunity to play for a national championship.

However, at the start of the season, many fans would not have predicted that Stetson Bennett or Cade McNamara would be in this privileged position come the last day of 2021.

Few, except perhaps those inside the Wolverines locker room, saw a Michigan team built to mount a serious challenge for the Big Ten Championship, let alone a natty. If you listened to the experts, his was to be the season where head coach Jim Harbaugh would once again lose to the Buckeyes, and the hot seat he was sitting on would become intolerably warm.

Stetson Bennett and Cade McNamara are similar and both have something to prove.

Aside from Harbaugh’s ability to beat Ohio State, the consistent criticism thrown his way was his inability to find a quarterback. A quarterback in Harbaugh’s mold who could drive the Wolverines to success. According to anyone with a Twitter account, this should have been Harbaugh’s last season in Ann Arbor.

Meanwhile, way down South of the cold of Ann Arbor, amongst the humidity and Magnolias, few in Athens saw the quarterback position filled by anyone other than JT Daniels.

Daniels, who had traversed from the West Coast, had a difficult first season in Athens with injuries. Still, this year, hopes were high that the 5-star Californian gunslinger could lead this supremely talented Georgia football team to its long overdue national championship under head coach Kirby Smart.

So, heading into this season, few believed that McNamara or Bennett was good enough to win out their respective starting roles at the two schools.

Fast forward to late December, Georgia and Michigan have scaled to the top of college football. However, it is not the quarterbacks and explosive offenses everyone keeps discussing.

No, we are talking about perhaps the best Georgia defense ever and a Michigan defense that features a Heisman Trophy finalist. The Orange Bowl will likely get decided by the performances of two stellar defenses. The quarterbacks are not getting the love they usually receive.

But whisper it, McNamara is the quarterback that Harbaugh has been searching for during his entire tenure at Michigan. And whisper it, even more, Bennett is on course to post record stats for his Bulldogs.

So how do these two quarterbacks, essentially beating the odds, shape up against each other? They are actually pretty similar in how they play and how people see them.

Well, to begin with, neither are particularly large quarterbacks. Bennett is 6-0 and 185-pounds, while McNamara is 6-1 and 206-pounds.

Using PFF as a comparator makes for comforting reading for Georgia fans — yes, even those non-believers, as PFF ranks Bennett ahead of McNamara in most if not all ratings.

However, in terms of stats recorded this season, there is very little difference between either guy. This year Bennett has amassed 2,325 passing yards for 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions, with a completion rate of 64%. McNamara has thrown for 2,470 yards, 15 touchdowns, four interceptions and also has a completion rating of 64%.

Both quarterbacks play in run-heavy offenses meaning there is less pressure on getting the ball in the air, although that is not to be disingenuous on both teams’ passing game.

And this is where it gets interesting. The Wolverines lead FBS in the rushing game, chalking up some 2,900 yards this season. This stat means that McNamara can be successful by being efficient with the ball. A term most quarterbacks despise, McNamara can be a game manager if his offensive line does what they do best.

If the plan is working, McNamara doesn’t need to launch the ball to his wideouts because they are running the ball and milking the clock.

This clash of these college football blue bloods in this year’s Orange Bowl is fascinating as Georgia football has the best rush defense in the college game. So the Dan Lanning, Will Muschamp, and Glenn Schumann defensive trifecta are getting pressure on McNamara.

In games this season where teams have pressured McNamara, his passing stats have dipped noticeably. Against Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State, McNamara’s passing efficiency plummeted below 50%., and against the Nittany Lions and the Badgers, it fell to mid-30%.

The same can be said for Bennett, who has also struggled when pressured to release the ball early. However, Bennett has proven that he can move the ball out of the pocket and is a threat when he runs. In his 12 games this season, Bennett’s rushing presence resulted in 251 yards rushing while averaging 5.6 yards a carry.

As much as Georgia and Michigan fans don’t want this Orange Bowl to be a close game, all the signs are that the final result will not just be about the impact that the defenses will have on the game.

Related Story. Georgia football has no choice but to start Stetson Bennett. light

The quarterbacks will have a say on this year’s Orange Bowl outcome and a loud one at that. Coincidentally both head coaches find themselves criticized for a perceived inability to find the chosen one under center. Win the Orange Bowl, and this criticism subsides, at least for a short time.