Georgia quarterback J.T. Daniels was called into head coach Kirby Smart’s office on Monday and told he was going to start on Saturday night against Mississippi State.
It would be the first time the redshirt sophomore had taken a live snap in a game since Aug. 31, 2019, when he was Southern Cal’s starting quarterback versus Fresno State. Daniels suffered a blow to his knee that required him to miss the rest of the season as his backup, Kedon Slovis, ultimately shined in his absence. That led to Daniels entering the NCAA transfer portal and eventually joining Georgia back in May.
On Saturday night, Daniels trotted onto the field in hopes of being Georgia’s savior on offense following several games where the quarterback play was abysmal. He didn’t disappoint in his Georgia debut as he completed 28 of 38 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns. Daniels became the first Georgia quarterback to throw for over 400 yards since Aaron Murray did in 2013 against Auburn
Daniels was appreciative of the opportunity he received on Saturday night.
“I’ve been trying to get healthy, get as many reps as I can on the scout team, try to get with the receivers as much as I can, and just try to get ready,” Daniels said in his postgame press conference. “But this feels really good. I hadn’t taken a snap since Aug. 31, 2019, in a whole other part of the country. I couldn’t be happier.”
Daniels got the night started on Georgia’s first possession by hitting sophomore wide receiver George Pickens for a 28-yard gain, although his next few plays looked shaky. The Bulldogs were able to get the ball back the next drive and Daniels elevated his game from there on out. The Irvine, California native looked poised his second time out as he found Pickens again on third down for a four-yard score.
Georgia’s passing offense found their identity as found freshman receiver Jermaine Burton open several times downfield in the first half. On two separate drives, the two connected on a 49-yard strike followed by a 46-yard play. With a few seconds remaining in the first half, Daniels found Burton again, but this time it was in the endzone on another third down. That connection tied the game up at 17 apiece heading into halftime.
Daniels said that having guys like Pickens, Burton and Kearis Jackson around him help tremendously.
“If you’re not going to throw it up to them, don’t recruit them,” Daniels said. “George makes me look good, Jermaine makes me look good and Kearis makes me look really good when I under-throw the ball down the middle and he makes a big play. If you are going to show me one-on-one with George, Jermaine and Kearis, I’m probably going to want you to show me you can stop it.”
That swagger that Daniels displayed tonight is something that Georgia needed coming from their quarterback. In the second half, Daniels didn’t look phased as Mississippi State dialed up more blitz packages to try and combat his effectiveness. It ultimately didn’t work as Daniels was able to keep finding open receivers downfield.
In the second half, Daniels was able to mimic what the Maroon Bulldogs were doing on offense, and that was finding receivers open in short to mid-field ranges. Daniels even found tight end John FitzPatrick one and senior receiver Demetris Robertson a few times. His ability to find the open man bailed out Georgia’s inability to run the ball against a loaded box.
Georgia only finished with eight rushing yards, which is astounding considering the full stable of running backs that they have. The receivers picked up the slack tonight at Burton led the team in receiving with eight receptions for 197 yards and two touchdowns. Pickens followed with the same number of receptions but for 87 yards and a score. Jackson hauled in four receptions for 55 yards and a score, which was Georgia’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
After Saturday’s win, Daniels said he has no concern about his knee since being cleared before the Auburn game on Oct. 3.
“I was not cleared for the Arkansas game,” Daniels said. “Other than that, that’s really a coach’s decision. But no, I didn’t look into that like something happened to me. I wasn’t cleared for Arkansas, and (after that it) was all Coach Smart’s decision.”
Daniels added that Georgia director of sports medicine, Ron Courson, wanted to make sure his knee was stable enough to go before fully releasing him to play.
“As soon as I got cleared, I was ready to go out and play football,” Daniels said. “But it absolutely should be said that I’ve progressed a good amount since then. We’re still progressing every week to try and get full strength and full health back there.”
At the end of the day, Daniels said it was a unreal feeling of being back on the field.
“In terms of emotions, in the end, on the victory formation, it started to sink in a little bit,” Daniels said. “But it still really hasn’t yet—that I’ve been able to play football again. I just feel a lot of gratitude, for my family, for this team, for this coaching staff, and for everyone helping me get back on my feet.”
Here is the video from Daniels’ postgame interview: