Georgia’s offense struggled for the better part of the season due to its quarterback play, but when Southern Cal transfer J.T. Daniels took over, the unit looked completely different than in previous games.
The comparison was like night and day. Georgia’s offense scored 125 points in its three matchups against Mississippi State, South Carolina and Missouri. It’s like the presence of Daniels elevated not just the offense, but rather the entire team.
In the final three games of the season, the Bulldogs averaged nearly 42 points per game and 499 total yards of offense. The strong finish to the regular season helped Georgia rank fourth in the SEC in scoring offense (33.2 points per game) and sixth in total yards per game (421.3).
In his debut against Mississippi State, the run-game wasn’t efficient, so Daniels completed 28 of 38 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns. That performance alone made opponents put respect on Georgia’s passing game.
That gave Georgia momentum to run the ball effectively against the Gamecocks, a game in which the offense totaled 332 rushing yards. But it wasn’t until the Missouri matchup on Dec. 5 to where the offense looked completely balanced; the Bulldogs totaled 615 yards of total offense, which was a season-high. Against Missouri, Georgia had 316 yards rushing and 299 yards passing.
Daniels isn’t the only reason that Georgia’s had such great offensive success this season. A lot of the credit should be awarded to first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who was brought in by head coach Kirby Smart to do just that. According to Monken, Daniels is the right guy for the starting job.
“One thing about it is he’s a sponge,” Monken said about Daniels. “He loves to be coached, loves to have the answers, which is a huge start at the quarterback position. There’s a lot of things you can do with J.T. that you can keep it as quarterback control because he’s going to study the film, he’s going to want to know the answer. You don’t have to tell him everything. You don’t have to look to the sideline and change the play.”
Monken said that Daniels’ knowledge of the game and his ability to read defenses is something that’s unique for a player his age.
“He can do that on his own. He embraces that challenge of being in control,” Monken said. “That is stuff to being an NFL quarterback, the quarterback being in control. It’s been great. From the get-go it was. The amount of work that J.T. is willing to put in to be the player he wants to be. Very few people have a love of the process of playing the game of football as he does.”
Daniels transferred to UGA following a season-ending injury against Fresno State in USC’s season opener last season. Daniels played and started every game during his freshman season for the Trojans, but backup Kedon Slovis took over that top depth chart spot following the injury. Daniels transferred to Georgia in May and was cleared to play just after Georgia’s season opener against Arkansas. His mobility was a question of concern throughout the first part of the season, even though he was cleared to play
There will always be a question mark surrounding Daniels’ health going into the matchup against Florida in Jacksonville. If he was in fact ready, Georgia could have missed out on a chance to defeat the Gators. A victory would’ve landed the Bulldogs in Atlanta for a fourth straight year, competing for an SEC title and possible playoff berth.
Still, Monken knows that that opportunity has passed and has moved on.
“The moment J.T. played and prepared, it was time to move forward,” Monken said. “I think he’s done a great job not only for his opportunity but then since then.”
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Kearis Jackson said that the addition of Daniels has helped the offense enormously.
“We’ve been more efficient. We’ve been able to stay on the field, convert on third downs, make big plays when we needed,” Jackson said. “We just continue to stay on the field and move the ball. We’ve been more efficient just by the passing game and the run game being balanced. We’re carrying that over into the game this week.”
Here is the video of Tuesday’s press conference: