Smart: Georgia could play both Daniels, Bennett for the rest of the season
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels has been practicing and improving since suffering an injury earlier this season. Since then, Stetson Bennett has made three consecutive starts and has excelled in Daniels’ absence. With Daniels looking like he could play next week against Florida, the Bulldogs’ coaching staff has a decision to make on who starts under center.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart recently did an interview with ESPN’s Chris Lowe and floated the idea around that both Daniels and Bennett could see playing time moving forward.
“I’m not sure we know who the better one is based on which game plan we have,” Smart said earlier this week. “There are teams we play that we have to be able to use the quarterback in the run game. Well, that’s Stetson. There are teams we play that you have to get the ball out quickly and be really accurate. That’s JT. But the first thing with JT is that he’s got to be healthy.”
Daniels has been dealing with a lat injury and has not played since the Vanderbilt game. He started against the Commodores and hasn’t played since the end of the first quarter. Daniels missed a matchup earlier this season against UAB after dealing with an oblique injury. He has completed 76 percent of his passes for 567 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in three starts in 2021.
"JT practiced on Wednesday and did about everything," Smart said. "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."
Bennett has been nearly perfect since taking the reigns of the offense for the Bulldogs. The former walk-on has accounted for 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in place of Daniels. So far this season, Bennett has completed 70 percent of his passes for 996 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has 19 rush attempts for 148 yards, averaging 7.8 carries.
The sixth-year head coach pointed out that it’s important to have both signal callers on the team.
"I think the feeling in the outside world is that you can't win it all [the national championship] without JT," Smart said. "I don't know or can't say that's accurate or not. I know there's nothing that he's shown that Stetson hasn't shown us that leads us to believe that's the case."
Bennett drew some skepticism last season from critics and fans because of his ability to force passes. He finished the 2020 campaign by completing 86 of 155 passes for 1,179 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Regardless, Bennett helped Georgia to an 8-2 record and beat several opponents such as Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn.
Former Georgia standout and current ESPN analyst David Pollack acknowledged last week that he’s seen Bennett gain some confidence over the offseason.
“I’ve been on the Stetson train all year, I'm not going to jump off,” Pollack said last week to reporters. “I’ve always been a big fan of his game. It kind of pisses me off because we act like only certain people are afforded the right to get better.”
Pollack admitted that Bennett made some mistakes, but he has seen growth since last season.
“Stetson [Bennett] played a year ago and yes, he played against the No. 1 team in the country in Alabama who didn’t trail against anybody except for Georgia and Stetson Bennett,” he added. “He’s allowed to improve and get better and I’ve seen it, with the team that is constructed. Everybody had Stetson Bennett to Ladd McConkey as the No. 1 team in the country. We all had that preseason, right?
He’s the best guy for the job right now. His element of using his legs and helping the run game, which isn’t great or elite, but it’s getting better with Darnell (Washington) and Stetson at the quarterback spot. I don’t care about stars. I don’t care about four-stars or five-stars, I don’t give a crap. Do you deliver? And the mailman delivers.”
Georgia inside linebacker Quay Walker would agree with Pollack’s sentiment.
"I'll start by saying he knows his role this year,” Walker said. “I think he pretty much understood that last year, as well. This year, after practice and whatnot, after games, leading up to practice, I'll see Stetson still there. Probably by the time I get done, he's still in there. He probably goes in there way before me because he'll be in there watching film. It's just a whole lot of execution that he has taken from watching guys that came before, that were here probably his freshman year. He's had a big jump from last year to this year, and I'm really, really proud of Stetson."