Finally, Bennett has a highlight reel

semerson@macon.comSeptember 17, 2011 

ATHENS -- It was a 4-yard catch that had everyone talking.

But it was a touchdown that had Michael Bennett hitting the forward and reverse buttons on his remote.

“I watched it on TV a few times, I’m not gonna lie,” Bennett said of his first career touchdown, which came on a 19-yard pass during Saturday’s game against South Carolina. “I wish I could’ve kept the ball, too. But you can’t do that. It’s not like baseball.”

Bennett can be excused for basking in his moment of glory, even if it came in a loss. After sitting out last season and not catching a pass through the first game-and-a-half of this season, he was antsy to be a factor.

Malcolm Mitchell is the Bulldogs freshman receiver who has received the most attention. And deservedly so, considering he leads the team in catches and receiving yards.

But it may be time to include another freshman receiver in the conversation: Bennett, a redshirt freshman but a freshman nonetheless.

“We all have talent. And me and Malcolm, we’re just trying to make the most of our opportunities,” Bennett said. “Malcolm came in here right away and did some unbelievable stuff out there on the No. 1 corners (in practice). I redshirted last year; I felt like that helped me a lot. I knew I was gonna play this year, so I knew whenever I got out there on the field I knew I had to make plays.”

Bennett thought several times he was going to play last year. The Alpharetta native got snaps in practice, and the coaching staff thought enough of him that he traveled to away games.

But the coaching staff also thought a lot of A.J. Green and Kris Durham, now in the NFL, as well as the other veterans like Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten.

So Bennett, who was a three-star recruit coming out of high school, waited his turn. When Durham graduated and Green jumped to the NFL, Bennett figured it opened up plenty of opportunities. But the Bulldogs also recruited four freshman receivers, led by Mitchell, the elite prospect who on National Signing Day told the team he wanted to be a receiver.

But Bennett pushed his way into the top rotation of six receivers during preseason practice. He has the build of an SEC receiver, at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds and showed good catching ability in practice.

“We saw it since his redshirt year. We’ve been talking about it since his freshman year,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “He has the ability. He’s a big kid, a strong kid, works hard.”

Bennett’s first career catch was less memorable. It was just a 1-yarder on second-and-19 on the opening drive of the game against South Carolina.

Then came his touchdown catch, which after a two-point conversion, led to the game being tied at 28.

But the catch that stuck in everyone else’s minds came in the fourth quarter. Georgia was trailing 31-28 and was facing third-and-1 from the South Carolina 28. Bennett lined up in the slot and cut in, and Murray’s pass -- after nicking off a defender’s helmet -- darted low.

Bennett reached down and caught the ball for the first down. Two plays alter, Isaiah Crowell scored to put Georgia ahead.

“It actually nicked off one of the defender’s helmets and just shot down. I was like, ‘Oh no, incompletion.’ I don’t know how we caught it,” Murray said. “In the game, I thought it hit the ground first, but if you watch the film, it’s unbelievable how he was able to adjust from thinking the ball’s here to going down and being able to grab it.”

“It deflected off of a guy’s helmet, I think,” Bennett said. “And just the reaction (was) I stuck my hands out there and it just kind of glued there.”

Head coach Mark Richt said that after watching game film he felt it was one of the best catches he’d ever seen, especially considering the moment.

“When everybody came off the field everybody is hugging Isaiah, and I was happy for the run Isaiah made, too, but I grabbed that kid and gave him a big hug because that was a heck of a play,” Richt said. “That helps those guys gain confidence, and I think makes everybody around them better.”

Georgia did end up losing the game 45-42. But Bennett officially got in the stat sheet, which will help his cause, and perhaps that of the offense, which needs a couple receiving threats to emerge.

Bennett needed it. The Bulldogs are giving a lot of receivers a chance to prove themselves, so chances are at a premium. Every play is vital to how many more you get.

“That’s the only way to get playing time, is to make plays,” Bennett said. “You’re out there and you’re like. This is my play, and you’ve just gotta go out there and make the most of it.”

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