Georgia head coach Kirby Smart never reveals much about team decisions, especially about the status of USC transfer quarterback JT Daniels, who was cleared to play after the season-opening win over Arkansas. Besides being cleared to play, Daniels has yet to see the field, and Smart didn’t drop any cues on Monday if he will be an option for the starting role in Georgia’s road game against Kentucky next week.
Former walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett IV struggled mightily against the No. 2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide this past weekend by only completing 18 of 40 passes for 269 with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He only completed 45 percent of his passes and had time completing passes because a few of his balls were batted down at the line of scrimmage.
The South Georgia native helped the Bulldogs win their first three games, but his ability is limited because of his size, and now it might be time for Smart to make a change at quarterback. Given that the program currently has an unexpected bye week, it may be time for Smart and his staff to consider Daniels as the top-option for the starting job.
Smart was asked specifically about the status of Daniels on Tuesday and didn’t really go into specifics.
“Yeah, we look at the off weeks as an opportunity to get everybody better. It will be no different at any position,” Smart said when he spoke with reporters on Zoom. “In terms of the reps, in a game week, we get ones I’d say 70 percent of the reps, twos 20 to 30 percent of the reps, but our threes get a lot of reps during the week because they go against the other units.”
Smart did confirm that Daniels will get a ton of reps this week.
“This week, we’ll get a lot of guys reps. JT will get reps, D’Wan (Mathis) will get reps, Stetson (Bennett) will continue to get reps,” Smart said. “We try to develop our roster, is the way we look at it. It doesn’t change, it just gives us a chance to give more guys work and see where they are in their progress, and that’s true at every position, including quarterback.”
Daniels has been dressed out and on the sidelines at every single game this season. He even was seen in uniform during Georgia’s trip to Fayetteville, which was two days before Smart said he was medically cleared. This past weekend, Daniels was seen for the first time without a knee brace, which raised the questions on if he was ready to play or not.
Smart said that even though Daniels has been medically cleared, doesn’t mean he’s ready to play yet.
“Well, medically cleared is saying he can go out and get tackled and play football. It’s unique to that position, because the quarterback doesn’t go live, maybe in fall camp, but he doesn’t go live until real game time,” Smart said. “Everything else revolves around who we think gives us the best chance to win. That’s ultimately the decision we have. The toughest thing is getting enough reps once you’re down the road of being able to get guys prepared for games. You can’t prepare three and four quarterbacks to play in a game.
As a starter for the past three weeks, Bennett has looked sharp except for several key moments against Alabama. He has a 2-1 record as a starter and is credited with helping the Bulldogs overcome their first-half blunders against Arkansas to lead them to victory. Bennet’s completed 71 of 124 passes for 958 yards and seven touchdowns this season with three interceptions.
He was was nearly flawless in those first three games as he recorded no turnovers, but his three interceptions happened to have come in the biggest game of the year against the Crimson Tide. This has led many to believe that the coaching staff will make a change at quarterback as Georgia prepares for Kentucky.
Still, Daniels might not be a better option at the moment because he hasn’t seen the field in over a year.
The former five-star Mater Dei (Cal) product started 11 games for USC as a freshman where he completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,672 yards 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Those aren’t exceptional numbers, but Daniels really started come out of his shell as the season progressed. At the end of the season, Daniels recorded consecutive 300-yard games against UCLA and Notre Dame.
At the start of his sophomore year, Daniels was having a great game against Fresno State by completing 25 of 34 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown before suffering a knee injury. Later it was announced that Daniels had a torn ACL and other cartilage damage. He had surgery to repair the knee and then another to deal with other problems. When the pandemic hit, Daniels wasn’t able to fully receive the proper rehabilitation due to the country shutting down.
Smart said that it’s hard for a guy to just walk back onto the field and succeed after an experience like that; it’s all about getting back to the basics and reps are important in the process of recovery.
“You just don’t get enough time to do that,” Smart said. “We do get a lot of time this week to compete, have reps. It’s every position. I look at it as every guy that’s going out there is getting a chance to get better on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. That’s the way we’ve always done our off weeks. It doesn’t change.”
Here is the video from Smart’s Tuesday presser: