What the 2018 Florida game can tells us about Georgia’s current quarterback situation
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What the 2018 Florida game tells us about Georgia’s current quarterback situation
This is not the first time that Kirby Smart has spent the off week fielding questions about the quarterback situation. Nor is it the first time he’s entered the week coming off a loss to an SEC West foe, and dealing with his quarterback playing the worst game of his season to that point.
To top it all off, the starter was a member of Georgia’s 2017 recruiting class. And the back-up quarterback, the one so many fans and national media types want to see, was a 5-star signee in the 2018 recruiting cycle.
In 2018, it was Jake Fromm and Justin Fields dominating the off-week headlines. This season, it’s Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels. The 2018 loss was on the road against LSU. This season, it was a road defeat to Alabama.
And now, there is an off week to deal with the fallout and figure out the quarterback situation for the rest of the regular season.
The more things change at Georgia, the more they seem to stay the same.
Smart started his press conference this week answering a question about Daniels and where he stood with his health. He then ended his Wednesday teleconference once again speaking about Daniels.
“JT [Daniels] is going out each day and working. His mobility is getting better as time goes through,” Smart said. “He is moving around and taking a lot of reps and growing. He is competing just like D’Wan [Mathis] and Carson [Beck] is.”
Want to know what Smart said of Fields during that same off week in 2018? It’s strikingly similar to some of the talk around Daniels.
“Justin’s growing,” Smart said of Fields during the off week. “He’s getting better each and every day. I think his maturity is getting better. In the meeting room, he’s picking things up, he’s developing. He’s certainly eager to get that opportunity. He continues to progress and do things in practice and get his opportunity in the games.”
In between his comments on Daniels this week, Smart also talked about Bennett.
“I feel great about Stetson. He’s done a good job of managing the situations we have put him in,” Smart of his current quarterback. “He made a couple of bad decisions… We’ve got to continue to improve on that. Everybody around him has to continue to improve.”
As for Fromm, Smart used similar rhetoric of when he was talking about Bennett and how the team played coming off the loss.
“Could (Fromm) have played better? Sure, he could have played better,” Smart said of Fromm during that same week, one in which Georgia was coming off a loss. “A lot of people could have played better. A lot of people could have coached better, too. But that’s over with. We’ve moved on to Florida and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Due to a schedule change, Georgia now plays Kentucky coming out of the off week. The Fromm-Fields debate also some different layers and complexities to it than Bennett-Daniels. Fromm had led Georgia to the national title game the year before, while Fields was an uber-athlete and even higher-rated prospect than Daniels was in that 2018 class.
As for Bennett, the Alabama game was his third career start and fourth career game as Georgia’s QB1. And Daniels is coming off a serious knee injury that he’s still recovering from. Daniels wasn’t cleared until after the Bulldogs’ season-opening game against Arkansas.
In the 2018 loss against LSU, Fromm completed 16 of his 34 passes for 209 yards. He threw two interceptions in the game to just one touchdown and Georgia lost 36-16. Fields played in that game, but he threw no passes and ran for three yards on a single carry.
Bennett took all the snaps for Georgia in the Alabama game. He completed 18 of his 40 pass attempts for 269 yards. He threw three interceptions to two touchdowns. Daniels didn’t play at all, as he’s yet to play in a game this season for Georgia.
“It’s easy to sit back and second-guess and say this and that, but at the end of the day we have to make good decisions, and we’ve got to play the guy who gives us the best chance to win,” Smart said of Fields and Fromm after the LSU game.
“And we’ll continue to do that, both of those guys are going to continue to get better. They are good football players.”
So what did Georgia do against Florida with its quarterback situation after the week? Public pressure was mounting to see more of Fields. And the matchup between Florida and Georgia was a top-10 meeting with the fate of the SEC on the line.
Smart played Fromm every snap. And Fromm came through. Then a sophomore, Fromm threw for 240 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Bulldogs rolled to a 36-17 victory.
After the game, Smart was once again asked about Fields and the quarterback situation at large.
“Justin Fields continues to work and get better, too,” Smart said after the 36-17 win. “For the last two weeks that kid got a lot of reps and he got better. I’m disappointed he didn’t get an opportunity to play and I’m sure he is, too. But he is a competitor and he continues to get better.
“We have a situation where we have two of what I think are really good quarterbacks.”
From that point on, Fromm was the guy for Georgia. Fields still played, including in the SEC Championship game against Alabama. But shortly after that loss, Fields entered the transfer portal. The Florida game was the only game prior to Fields entering the transfer portal. The win over Florida pretty clearly established that Fromm was the guy for Georgia that season.
So what does all this mean for the 2020 quarterback battle? Will Bennett continue to take all meaningful game reps for Georgia, as he has since coming in for D’Wan Mathis against Arkansas? Will he bounce-back from the Alabama performance, and look more like the quarterback we saw against Auburn and Tennessee?
Can Daniels, who will get more first-team reps in practice this week due to the nature of the off week, make a move this time? Or will his knee injury prevent him from being the Daniels everyone saw as a freshman at USC?
Ultimately that is all up for Smart to decide. In 2018, he gave the car keys to Fromm and it worked out in the short-term as the Bulldogs rebounded and won every regular-season game in the 2018 season. Fromm threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns against Alabama, albeit in a losing effort. In hindsight though, Fields has proven to be the better player.
It’s not an easy decision and it’s ultimately one Smart will have to make.
“Can you grow and get better without being in the limelight? And the great ones all probably have done that in their career,” Smart said of his quarterbacks. “It’s unfortunate in a ‘me now’ society of ‘I’ve got to take care of me right now,’ but that’s hard to do.
“We challenge them every day, and we give each guy the opportunity to get reps and get better daily.”
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
- Georgia football podcast: The one thing Kirby Smart didn’t say about JT Daniels
- Real numbers: Putting Alabama offensive onslaught against Georgia into perspective
- UGA linebacker Nakobe Dean on strong sophomore start: ‘I feel like I have grown tremendously’
- Georgia coach Kirby Smart puts quarterback Stetson Bennett under the microscope
- WATCH: Georgia coach Kirby Smart addresses quarterback situation with JT Daniels, Stetson Bennett
- Georgia football injury update: Tailback Kenny McIntosh, cornerback DJ Daniel, receiver Matt Landers
- COVID-19 concerns cited in cancellation of 2021 All-American Bowl
- Schedule change ends up benefitting Georgia football after Alabama loss
- Georgia football stock report: Some ups amid 41-24 loss at Alabama
- Georgia playmaker James Cook heating up; mind-blowing numbers from Alabama loss
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