ATHENS, Ga. — As he watched his go-ahead, 43-yard field goal against Clemson start out left before coming back to the right and sailing through the goal posts, Billy Bennett's struggles of only weeks earlier seemed to be in his distant past.
About halfway through two-a-day drills, Bennett's job as Georgia's kicker on field goals and extra points was in jeopardy. Not only was he missing in practice, but he was missing badly.
Georgia coach Mark Richt knew Bennett probably would come around, but he didn't know when and he didn't know if he could wait that long. So Richt had Bennett compete with Brett Kirouac, hoping the competition would snap the junior out of his funk.
The strategy worked. Bennett finished the preseason strong and was a star player on Georgia special teams — the area in which Georgia most clearly established superiority in the 31-28 win over Clemson.
"The game just did a lot for the special teams unit as a whole,'' Bennett said.
Bennett credited the steady snapping of Brian Jordan, a redshirt freshman who beat out Jake Carter in another preseason competition.
Bennett's go-ahead field goal came with 5:19 left to play. It was his only attempt of the game. Bennett was ready to come on the field earlier in the fourth quarter when Richt faced a decision on a fourth-and-12 play from the Clemson 32. One option was to try a field goal of about 49 or 50 yards.
"I had been hitting them in practice and I ran up to Coach Richt and told him I wanted to kick it,'' Bennett said. "He said ‘Are you sure?' and made me repeat it. But (defensive coordinator Brian) VanGorder said that he felt good about the defense if they punted. Coach made the right call.''
Jonathan Kilgo's punt went out of bounds at the Clemson 8, and the Georgia defense held the Tigers to only two yards on three plays.
Following the Clemson punt and a 10-yard return by Damien Gary, Georgia had the ball again at the Clemson 45, and from there the Bulldogs needed only one first down to set up Bennett's kick. As the ball said through the uprights, Bennett shook his fist and pointed at the stands.
"That does a lot for my confidence, but we've all still got a lot to work on,'' Bennett said.
Said Richt, noting Gary's three returns for 64 yards and Fred Gibson's 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown: "It was just a super job by the kicking teams.''
Bennett now is 9 for 11 on field-goal attempts in his career from 40 to 49 yards.
NOTES: Georgia held a light practice Monday, working without pads for about 90 minutes. ... Tailback Musa Smith said Monday he "felt real good'' after carrying the ball 23 times against Clemson — his highest total in almost a year. Smith continues to go through extended stretching with a trainer before each practice, but he says he has experienced no hint of the inflammed groin injury which bothered him last season and kept him out of spring drills this year. ... Defensive end David Pollack was credited with eight tackles and 1.5 sacks in the official stats released Monday, but he may remember the Clemson game more for his two snaps as the "Wham back'' on offense. It was Pollack, who hoped to play fullback when he signed with Georgia out of Shiloh High School, who led the way for Smith over the top of the pile on the fourth-and-one "Blast-off'' play which clinched the win. "It was awesome,'' said Pollack. "It's fun being on the other side of the spectrum.'' Pollack says he works with the offense about 10 minutes in every practice. ... Richt plans to continue practice through Thursday in the off week before giving the players a three-day weekend.
Charles Odum is the beat writer for Dawg Post in Athens. He has over 20 years of experience covering Georgia football. He can be reached here: CEOdum@aol.com
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