ATHENS — The JT Daniels hype has begun, albeit with somewhat of a small sample size and a more limited audience than Georgia football is accustomed to having.
The No. 8-ranked Bulldogs (6-2) find themselves on the brink of elimination in the SEC East heading into a 4 p.m. contest with Vanderbilt (0-8) on Senior Day.
The outgoing players have a chance to finish as the program’s winningest team if they can close the regular season with wins over the Commodores and Missouri and then beat a bowl opponent.
Much of the excitement around the program, however, centers around the promising future of the offense now that Daniels has taken over.
One of the top Georgia fan accounts had some fun with Daniels’ picture:
The transfer quarterback from USC appeared on the Marty & McGee Show on ESPN this week, introducing himself to many in the SEC’s footprint on the popular show.
Daniels was dressed in all black, sans the mustache that had fans comparing his original Georgia mug shot to Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday character in the Western movie “Tombstone.”
Alas, Daniels admitted to the show hosts he had never seen the movie, as it was released in 1993, years before he was born.
It wasn’t really what Daniels said, so much as fans seeing how he looked and sounded.
Calm, relaxed, well-spoken and without any hint of “California Surfer Dude” lingo that some incorrectly associate with Los Angeles QB gunslingers.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) December 2, 2020
Daniels revealed he had never gone fishing or hunting before growing up in Los Angeles, and his first trip to a lake was last July.
“The biggest difference from where I grew up to here, the first thing I noticed was how much more nature I can see here,” said Daniels, who arrived at Georgia in May. “I drive down the highway, and I can see trees — those don’t really exist in Los Angeles.”
Daniels debuted for Georgia two weeks ago with a 28-of-38 passing performance that netted 401 yards and 4 touchdowns against Mississippi State.
Daniels sounded like the least surprised person in the room in the postgame, to the extent it would be hard to know which team he played on by the tone of his voice in the press conference.
Smart reeled in the UGA pass game last week. It limited Daniels to 10-of-16 passing for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns — another TD pass was dropped — in a 45-16 win in a name-your-score kind of game over the depleted Gamecocks.
Still, Daniels’ QB metrics compare favorably to the SEC’s top players at the position and add credence to Smart hiring noted NFL offensive coordinator Todd Monken to design and call plays for the Bulldogs.
The SEC passers with the best First Down+TD Rate when behind the chains entering Week 11 – min 20 att
1. Daniels 53.6%
2. Jones 52.4%
3. Corral 48.3%
4. Trask 45.4%
5. Bazelak 38.4%
6. Finley 36.8%
7. Franks 33.3%
7. Hill 33.3%
9. Seals 33.1%
10. Bennett 32.9%
AVR = 34.6% pic.twitter.com/UKj8TCnL0T
— SEC StatCat (@SEC_StatCat) December 2, 2020
The SEC passers with the best Completion% on passes 10+ yards downfield entering Week 11 – min 20 att
1. Daniels 69.6%
2. Jones 66.7%
3. Trask 63.7%
4. Corral 61.8%
5. Franks 61.7%
6. Rogers 57.5%
7. Brennan 54.8%
8. Finley 50%
9. Bennett 47.1%
10. Bazelak 44.6%
AVR = 50.1% pic.twitter.com/QfhHOsUCeW
— SEC StatCat (@SEC_StatCat) December 2, 2020
Not everyone is impressed with Daniels.
FoxSports analyst Joe Klatt has loudly questioned Georgia being ranked ahead of BYU in the College Football Playoff standings.
Klatt also said that Kirby Smart would trade Daniels for BYU quarterback Zach Wilson “in a heartbeat.”
“Georgia would trade quarterbacks for Zach Wilson in a heartbeat. This notion that BYU is not anywhere close to as good as Georgia, I’m not sure that’s the case.”@joelklatt joins to talk latest College Football playoff rankings: pic.twitter.com/1Nn7IH3DAq
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) December 2, 2020
Smart probably disagrees, considering he was the one who first texted Daniels leading to the Zoom conversations between the former USC quarterback and Monken.
“I hit the portal and got a text from Coach Smart, and I was like wow, Georgia, it doesn’t get much better than that when you’re talking about places that have a great school, an amazing coaching staff, a great environment and great football,” Daniels said. “They jumped to the top of my board immediately, as soon as I got that text.”
Some wondered why Daniels didn’t play sooner this season, but Daniels said he’s still working to get complete strength in his right leg after undergoing ACL surgery in late September of 2019.
“It feels strong enough, I have no concerns that I was ever rushed back out there where I might hurt it because I’m not strong enough,” Daniels said. “The only things we are missing is just a little bit of right leg strength, I think we’re a little bit off there, and it will still get sore and tight in some areas.
“But other than that, we’re pretty close to 100.”
Daniels said it has been a strong team environment in the quarterbacks room this season, sharing how he and Stetson Bennett have supported one another.
“First you have to stay he’s a great player, and his story and his journey are unique,” Daniels said of Bennett’s 3-2 run as the starter. “It was great for me to see it, because he is an amazing person. He’s a really good friend of mine.
“Every game I was out and I wasn’t playing, I was on the sideline reporting to him what I was seeing, and every game I’ve been in, he’s been doing the same for me. He’s a team player.”
Co-host Marty Smith said everyone knows it’s now clearly Daniels’ team.
Time will tell on the direction Smart takes the Georgia offense, but at the moment it seems Daniels will be returning to the Bulldogs along with a supporting cast that includes future NFL receivers George Pickens, Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson, along with other young talents like Darnell Washington and Arian Smith.
The Georgia defense figures to be in a reload mode with seniors Malik Herring, Monty Rice and Richard LeCounte expected to leave after this season. Junior cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes will also have decisions, along with junior nosetackle Jordan Davis and redshirt sophomore Azeez Ojulari.
That could mean Smart will lean more heavily on his offense and allow Daniels to push the ball downfield.
Daniels is still in the process of earning the head coach’s trust, having already learned to throw the ball away earlier to avoid big losses and the devastating hits dished out in the SEC.
The former Southern Cal quarterback let it be known there is no place he would rather be.
“Everyone asks, ‘How do you like the South?’ And I have to tell them honestly, ‘I absolutely love the South,’ ” Daniels said. “It fits me a lot better. It just fits me well. I feel at home here, just the same as I felt at home there.”