Daniels: 'We’ve just got a lot of guys that can play ball'
University of Georgia quarterback JT Daniels speaks to the media during the 2021 SEC Football Kickoff Media Days on July 20, 2021, at the Wynfrey Hotel, Hoover, Alabama. (Jimmie Mitchell/SEC)
Georgia’s offense is slated to be one of the top-rated units in the nation this upcoming season, and junior quarterback J.T. Daniels is the centerpiece of it all.
The former Mater Dei High School star took over the starting job for the Bulldogs late in the season in 2020 after battling an ACL injury he sustained during his freshman campaign at Southern Cal.
Nonetheless, Daniels did not skip a beat as he completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns, compared to two interceptions in four games to finish out last season.
The California native averaged 307.8 yards per game through the air, which is the most by any Georgia quarterback in recent memory. Now, just imagine the productivity Daniels can have in a full season with most of his weapons returning under second-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
Still, Daniels remains humble and is thankful for his teammates, with whom he seems to like sharing the spotlight with, especially the playmakers on offense.
“I would say my biggest strength is understanding my role of being the primary distributor,” Daniels said to reporters on Tuesday, per GeorgiaDogs.com. “That is my job. I mean, I am okay with the ball in my hands, but James (Cook) is really good with the ball in his hands. George Pickens is really good with the ball in his hands. We have a lot of players that when they have the ball in the right situation, do a lot of really good things."
Daniels definitely seems to understand that his top priority as the facilitator of the offense is to distribute the ball to where it needs to be.
“My strength in what I do is being able to read the defense and determine the best place for the ball to go,” Daniels said. “That’s going to help us move the chains and score points.”
Georgia’s passing attack through its first six games last season seemed like it was hungover from 2019, which also saw a definite decline in explosiveness after former quarterback Jake Fromm struggled with a depleted receiving corps. Georgia was competitive on offense last season through that period, however, it just didn’t seem like things were clicking just quite yet.
The Bulldogs averaged 209.3 passing yards per game combined amongst Stetson Bennett and D’wan Mathis through the first six games. Through the first three games, the passing yards consistently decreased (Arkansas: 266 yards, Auburn: 240 yards, Tennessee: 238 yards), but picked up against Alabama (269 yards), then took a drastic decline the final two games (Kentucky: 131 yards, Florida: 112 yards). That’s when Daniels got the start against Mississippi State in the next contest and threw for 401 yards and 4 touchdowns.
He didn’t need to throw much in Georgia’s dominating win over South Carolina (139 yards, two touchdowns) because of the explosive run game. However, Daniels did make up for the lack of production the next week against Missouri when he completed 16 of 27 passes for 299 yards and three scores. The Bulldogs racked up 615 yards of total offense against the Tigers, which was a season-high in 2020. In arguably his worst game of the season against Cincinnati, Daniels still threw for 392 yards and one score in a lop-sided win.
The bottom line is that Georgia’s offense is much more explosive when Daniels is under center. In every game he started last season, the Bulldogs had over 400-plus yards of total offense, except for one, which was against the Maroon Bulldogs when they went for 358 total yards. Georgia was able to reach over 400-plus yards in three of six games before Daniels started, but it doesn’t feel the same because the passing game lacked in those contests.
Daniels’ arm strength, talent and football knowledge just adds a whole other dynamic to Monken’s offense. Those two are now building a strong bond after finishing last season strong.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart knows how important of a relationship there needs to be between the team’s starting signal-caller and the offensive coordinator.
“Whoever your starting quarterback is, he has to have direct communication with the coaches,” Smart said. “You have to treat a quarterback differently at times. You give him lines of communication to tell you things he likes and doesn't like, and they have it. Todd (Monken)does a great job speaking with JT. And, JT understands what he likes to do."
Smart added that Daniels is more ‘relaxed’ after a year of learning the new offensive system.
"No. 1, he's more comfortable with his teammates," Smart said. "You know he's had more connection to the things we've done. He didn't get a chance to really do that last year. You can't do that through Zoom meetings.”
Daniels would be the first to tell you that it’s not all about him, but rather about his teammates. Last season, after the win over Mississippi State, he spoke highly about several Bulldogs, including Cook, Pickens, Kearis Jackson, Jermaine Burton and former teammate Demetris Robertson. Now, he still has that sentiment entering year two.
"We’ve just got a lot of guys that can play ball at the moment," Daniels said. "There are so many guys that you can put in and don’t think twice.”
Daniels also has weapons in former LSU tight end Arik Gilbert, who will help on the offense in Pickens’ absence. Then, there’s Darnell Washington, Justin Robinson, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Arian Smith, John FitzPatrick and Brock Bowers to name a few.
The sky is the limit for this Georgia passing attack, but it’s all about staying consistent and not getting complacent.
“There’s a really high number of guys that you don’t normally see, just the sheer number of guys that could be in the game,” Daniels said.
Second Photo Credit: (Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) during the Bulldogs’ game against Mississippi State at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Photo by Perry McIntyre)