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JT Daniels got the start for Georgia on Saturday.

Georgia football winners and losers following win over Mississippi State

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Georgia football winners and losers following win over Mississippi State

Winner: JT Daniels

What more needs to be said at this point about Daniels and his performance on Saturday night? It was statistically the best performance a quarterback has had since Kirby Smart took over as the head coach.

Stylistically, it may have been even more fun to watch and enjoy Daniels cook. He consistently hit on downfield throws for big gains all night. Both of his second-half touchdown passes traveled over 40 yards in the air before being caught by Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson.

This was Daniels’ first action of the season and the first competitive snaps he’s taken since Aug. 31 of 2019. That wasn’t lost on him after the game.

“It feels really good, this is the first time I’ve taken a (game) snap since Aug. 31, 2019, in another part of the country,” Daniels said. “I really couldn’t be happier and more appreciative to Coach Smart Coach (Todd) Monken and the team.”

Related: No second-guessing from JT Daniels’ family after 401-yard passing performance

Yes, this was an undermanned Mississippi State team and it was just a single game. But if Daniels is able to consistently make the throws he made on Saturday and hit the lay-ups as Smart calls them, it solves a lot of the issues we’ve seen plague the Georgia offense since the 2019 season.

Loser: Kirby Smart

Smart obviously was thrilled with how well Daniels played. He bailed the team out with how some of the other units played against Mississippi State.

But the showing leads to the question of why Daniels hadn’t seen the field earlier this season.

Smart answered that question following the game.

“Absolutely I would,” Smart said of those who question why it took until game seven for Daniels to see the field. “But I also think people need to take into consideration that I’ve been coaching football for I don’t know how many years, 20 or 25 years and God knows Monken has probably doubled me as old as he is. There’s not a decision that we make as coaches, as a coaching staff, as an offensive coaching staff, five guys that I adore and think the world of … maybe the question should be, man, aren’t they glad they’ve got J.T. here, when nobody thought that maybe they needed him.

Smart continued to explain his process for playing D’Wan Mathis and Stetson Bennett for earlier parts of the season.

“Would I have loved him to go out and do that same thing to other teams? Absolutely,” Smart said.  But the decisions were made on who we felt gave us the best opportunity to win, and a lot of that had to do with mobility and Stetson’s play. As Stet struggled, we had to look for other options. He did a great job with his opportunity, he also had some help in receivers that came back and how Mississippi State played them.”

Mobility and athleticism is something Smart and Monken have said was a key part of evaluating the quarterback position. Daniels was hobbled by the aforementioned knee injury which prevented him from being cleared to play for the start of the season.

Smart made sure to praise Daniels, but once again leaned on his and the offensive staff’s experience in their reasoning.

“He played unbelievable. I’m as proud as hell for the way he played,” Smart said. “But every decision we make is who gives us the best opportunity to win the game and the men in that room who are making those decisions, they’ve got a lot of experience doing it.”

It needs to be said that Jamie Newman opting out of the season undoubtedly threw a wrench into Smart’s plan. And if Daniels continues to play well and lead Georgia to the heights that other elite teams have enjoyed, he will one day likely get credit for bringing in Daniels when he did.

But that won’t come from a fan base that saw Georgia lose to Alabama and Florida due in part, though obviously not entirely, to ineffective quarterback play.

Winner: Georgia’s wide receivers

What a difference an accurate quarterback can make for your young pass-catchers. Burton, George Pickens and Demetris Robertson all had their best efforts of the season.

Burton really turned heads, as his eight catch, 197-yard performance validated why he had been so hyped up over the course of his freshman season. Coming into the game, Burton had 130 yards on 10 catches. In just the first half, he topped that with 149 yards.

Related: JT Daniels praises Georgia wide receivers in win over Mississippi State

It was clear from the jump that Georgia was going to get a good performance from Pickens. After missing the previous two games due to injury, he picked up a 28-yard catch and run on Georgia’s first drive.

He also found the endzone for Georgia’s first score of the game. Having a locked-in Pickens no doubt helps make this offense better.

It has been a tough go of things for this position group this season. But Saturday’s performance showed signs of a brighter future. Burton, Pickens and Jackson will all return in 2021. Georgia will also get Dominick Blaylock and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint back from injury. If Arian Smith continues to develop and return to health, it’s not hard to see this one-time weakness becoming a position of strength.

Loser: Georgia ground game

For as great as Daniels and the pass offense was, the rushing attack was bad. Georgia finished the game with eight rushing yards on 23 carries, with sacks included. That’s the lowest total of the Smart era and the fewest since at least 2009.

Georgia couldn’t get anything going. on the ground and that’s largely due to Mississippi State stuffing the box with defenders. Georgia was running into eight-man boxes for much of the night. Mississippi State dared Georgia to beat them deep and fortunately, Daniels was able to do so.

“They kicked our butt. That’s the bottom line,” Smart said. “Hey, we pass pro’d better than they pass rushed. And they run stopped better than we ran. I’d reserve judgment until I watch it to see totally what it was, but it wasn’t good enough.”

Georgia had been running the ball better as off of late and it will be worth monitoring how South Carolina adjusts to defending Daniels. But the Bulldogs will need to run the ball better unless Daniels is just going to start throwing for 400 yards in every game.

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