Kirby Smart has an interesting decision to make regarding Georgia’s quarterback situation vs. Florida on Saturday.
JT Daniels, who has missed four games this season due to injury, is finally healthy enough to take the field in Week 9 of the season. But No. 1 Georgia hasn’t exactly suffered without him on offense, as backup Stetson Bennett has played much better than a simple stopgap replacement for the top-ranked Bulldogs.
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Smart’s decision comes at an opportune time, considering Georgia plays rival Florida in Jacksonville, Fla. on Saturday. The Gators (4-3, 2-3 in SEC play) represent the last real threat the Bulldogs face in the regular season. They too have a curious quarterback situation, as Florida coach Dan Mullen said the team will play both Anthony Richardson and Emory Jones against Georgia.
If that strategy is successful in confusing the Bulldogs’ defense, then Smart will need his quarterback — whoever that is — to play well to stymie any upset bids.
Is JT Daniels playing today?
The expectation is that Bennett will start for Georgia as it heads to Jacksonville, Fla., to take on the Gators. The decision has nothing to do with Daniels’ health, however. Smart on Oct. 21 said Daniels was able to fully participate in the Bulldogs’ Wednesday practice during the bye week, admitting he looked “rusty”:
“JT practiced (Wednesday) and did about everything,” Smart said, via ESPN. “I thought (Wednesday) was the first time since Vanderbilt that I could have said, ‘Man, he looks like he could play.’ Now, he’s rusty, and (Thursday) will probably be the telltale practice because it will be the first time he’s gone back-to-back throwing after he threw a lot Wednesday.”
Smart reiterated that Daniels was healthy enough to play earlier this week, providing an update on his improvement:
“He’s looked good. He’s done a good job. I would be remiss if I could tell you everything he did today,” Smart told reporters. “That’s why when I hang up this call, I go in and watch it and see it visually with my eyes because a lot of times in practice I’m watching it from a defensive perspective. Then at night, I watch it from a quarterback perspective. I also talk to Coach (Todd) Monken and the offensive staff about it. He’s done a good job. I wouldn’t say that there’s been a lot of limitations. It doesn’t seem like there’s been limitations in terms of what he can and can’t do.”
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Daniels started the Bulldogs’ first game of the season against No. 3 Clemson, completing 22 of 35 passes for 135 yards and an interception vs. the Tigers in a 10-3 win. A strained oblique he suffered in the victory forced him to miss the Bulldogs’ next game vs. UAB; Smart initially tabbed freshman Carson Beck to start vs. the Blazers, but decided instead to go with Bennett. He completed 10 of 12 passes for 288 yards and five scores in a 56-7 win.
Daniels returned to play in Week 3 vs. South Carolina, completing 23 of 31 passes for 303 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He led the Bulldogs to touchdowns on their first two drives of the game before Smart played Bennett in the third series. He completed only 1 of 3 passes for 4 yards, also throwing an interception. He did not return to the game as Daniels led the Bulldogs to a 40-13 win.
Daniels played arguably his best game of the season in Week 4 against Vanderbilt, completing 9 of 10 passes for 129 yards and two scores as he led the Bulldogs to a 35-0 halftime lead. He exited after the first quarter, allowing Bennett to come in and get more reps. The backup again struggled, throwing an interception on his first drive, before rebounding to complete 11 of 15 passes for 151 yards and a score.
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A strained lat before the Week 5 game vs. Arkansas kept Daniels out of the starting lineup, however. He has yet to return to the field since then, with Bennett getting three straight starts.
Bennett played efficiently in his last three games vs. No. 8 Arkansas, at No. 18 Auburn and vs. No. 11 Kentucky. Against the Razorbacks, he completed 7 of 11 passes for 72 yards, adding three rushes for 16 yards; against the Tigers, he completed 14 of 21 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns, adding six rushes for 41 yards; and against the Wildcats, he completed 14 of 20 passes for three touchdowns. He also had three rushes for 22 yards.
JT Daniels stats
Because of his limited play this season, Daniels hasn’t exactly lit up opposing defenses. In three games this year, he has completed 54 of 71 passes for 567 yards and five touchdowns to two interceptions. He has also been credited with three rushes for negative-15 yards on the season.
Daniels, through no fault of his own, has not lived up to the hype he created for himself in 2020. He returned from injury to play in the team’s last four games of the season as its third starting quarterback of the year. He completed 80 of 119 passes for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns to two interceptions, turning in a 178.5 quarterback rating for the year. More importantly, he led the Bulldogs to a 4-0 record as a starter.