ATHENS — The Georgia quarterback situation is in a bit of a quandary with starter JT Daniels less than 100 percent and a salty defense across the line of scrimmage today at Sanford Stadium.
Coach Kirby Smart is typically not one to overthink things.
Smart, starting his sixth year as UGA’s head coach and coming off a 10-3 win over Clemson that elevated his record to 11-6 vs. Top 10 teams, has made his philosophy clear several times.
Football questions generally revolve around applying one question to each situation: “Does it help us win a championship?”
Hence, today’s dilemma over who to start against battle-tested UAB at 3:30 p.m. (TV: ESPN2) has drawn plenty of feedback.
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (1-0) first goal is obviously to win the game, and Smart has always pledged to play the players he believes puts his team in the best situation at that time.
It’s fluid, to be sure, and it certainly frustrates a fanbase to have any kind of uncertainty at such a key position, particularly after what Georgia went through last season.
Daniels will try to go, but sources have told DawgNation that there have been plans to start fifth-year senior Stetson Bennett if Daniels isn’t able to play.
Second-year quarterback Carson Beck is also expected to play.
It’s possible offensive coordinator Todd Monken might see something in warmups that would lead him to change things up.
Or, maybe Daniels’ wakes up today and his upper-body injury — believed to be a strained oblique muscle — no longer impedes this throwing motion.
Here’s a look at what a scenario would look like with each quarterback on the field, and why there’s a case to be made for each one:
The case for JT Daniels to play
Daniels is the Georgia starting quarterback. Make no mistake about it, it’s JT’s team and the locker room believes in him.
Players play “hurt” all the time, and there’s a difference between that and being injured. But the fact Daniels’ repetitions were limited this week is telling.
Daniels has the sort of knowledge of the offense and opposing defense that he could still play in the game if the game day assessment of his injury is that it doesn’t impede his ability to throw the ball accurately or put him at-risk for further injury.
Daniels wants more than anything to win games, and that’s why he would want to bet on himself to get that done.
But as former UGA quarterback Hutson Mason pointed out, there’s a reason players soldier through issues to maintain their starting position.
“If I’m JT Daniels the only way I wouldn’t play is if they didn’t put the equipment in my locker,” said Mason, an ESPN analyst. “If I don’t play for a week or two, and No. 15 (Beck) comes in and plays well … it makes for a tougher decision for the head coach. You don’t want to lose that job.
“There’s a reason Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Farve were notorious for never giving any of their backups any reps. All it takes is one game to open the door.”
The case for Stetson Bennett to play
There’s always a lot of excitement and energy around a home-opening football game, especially after going through last season with limited attendance.
Bennett was forced to deal with a pretty electric road environment last season, however, when he was brought in at Arkansas with the Bulldogs trailing 7-2 in the second quarter.
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There was no doubt Bennett’s experience as a junior college quarterback and the time he spent running the second team behind Jack Fromm played a role in his poise and ability to steady the football team.
This Georgia football team has a dynamic defense that doesn’t figure to give up many points.
But the offensive line is transition and a receiving corps missing some of its top targets. It’s a talented group, but it’s hardly settled.
The game plan figures to feature more of a short game, and that’s right up Bennett’s alley.
The UAB defense, meanwhile, “top a tremendous job wreaking havoc” Smart said this week.
Bennett’s five starts last season included games against some of the most respected defensive minds in college football: Nick Saban, Kevin Steele and Jeremy Pruitt, to name a few.
There’s nothing UAB could throw at Bennett that he hasn’t seen before.
The case for Carson Beck
Beck is the Bulldogs’ No. 2 quarterback and that doesn’t figure to change regardless of who starts or what order the players appear.
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The athletic, strong-armed second-year quarterback has impressed in practices and scrimmages, lacking only in actual game experience. Beck’s mobility allows him to extend plays, and his arm talent enables him to make every throw.
Beck’s inexperience might make him more susceptible to an experienced defense while he’s adjusting to game speed in his first sustained collegiate action, but his talents give him a high ceiling.
Beck is projected to compete with freshman Brock Vandagriff for starting duties once Daniels has moved on, and any game experience he gets will help that cause and serve the Bulldogs’ future interests.
RELATED: Kirby Smart impressed with Vandagriff progress on scout team
Vandagriff has been working with the scout team and would not seem to be an option to play against UAB unless called upon in an emergency situation.