While seemingly everyone else has turned the page to 2021 and what this Georgia offense might look like, JT Daniels has not. He is still very much on to Cincinnati and hasn’t put too much thought into what might come after.
Daniels was asked about a possible decision regarding the 2021 NFL Draft or whether to return to Georgia for another season while on a Zoom call with reporters ahead of the Peach Bowl against Cincinnati.
His answer was pretty much the same as the ones Jordan Davis, Tyson Campbell, Zamir White, Kearis Jackson and Jamaree Salyer all gave.
“Yeah, it’s not something I’ve honestly given too much thought to. This year is going by fast. I’m focused week-to-week,” Daniels said. “I’ve been here getting ready for the bowl since that Vandy week was over. I really haven’t given too much thought to anything. This week is Cincinnati. Once the off-season comes, I’ll be thinking about the off-season.”
In hearing Daniels and Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken speak though, you could tell there was a lot of excitement about what this offense could look like next season.
They both spoke glowingly about the many young players such as Jermaine Burton, Arian Smith and Sedrick Van Pran. Monken even acknowledged he heard from people about the desire to get George Pickens the ball more.
If Daniels is to return for another season, one in which Georgia might have a more normal offseason, it’s easy to see why Georgia can continue to build off what it did in the final three games of the season. The Bulldogs averaged 498 yards of offense in those three contests and 41.6 points per game.
“JT brings a different dynamic to their offense,” Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman said. ” You can tell by over the last three games, they’re averaging over 40 points a game. He’s got a very strong arm, probably the strongest arm probably in my time being the defensive coordinator here that we’ve faced.”
The story though of Georgia’s 2020 season has largely been defined by Daniels. He didn’t make his first start until the seventh game of the season, by which point Georgia had already lost to Alabama and Florida. The offensive struggles were a big reason why the Bulldogs lost those two games.
Monken did acknowledge that Daniels’ health, and the impact the pandemic had on his ability rehab, played a role in it taking a little longer than just about everyone wanted for Daniels to see the field.
“All he did was work his rear-end off to try to get healthy, to learn the offense,” Monken said. “He’s a rare individual in terms of loving football and studying the game. He didn’t get his opportunity early on, he can speak to, again, his health.
“He was eventually healthy, but he requested to go down to the other end and continue to work.”
Daniels committed to Georgia and Monken in May without ever having seen the campus. He joked that his mom and dad had met Kirby Smart before he did. The first time he ever set foot in the state of Georgia was when he got off the plane at Hartsfield Jackson Airport in Atlanta when he was on his way to Athens in June.
So why would Daniels pick Georgia, especially when it had developed a recent reputation of not getting the most out of talented quarterbacks?
“There was an instant connection as soon as I watched the first game of Coach Monk on I think my first Zoom call with him,” Daniels said. “It was just something that he sees the field very similar to how I see the field. I think we both have very similar kind of philosophy for how to attack a defense. It was something that I knew was exactly what was best for me.”
He also arrived at Georgia having had multiple knee surgeries following an injury that occurred while he was the starting quarterback at USC. There was also the fact that Georgia had brought in Jamie Newman from Wake Forest to compete as a starter for the 2021 season.
Newman ultimately opted-out in early September, in theory clearing the way for Daniels. But he had yet to be fully cleared to play due to the knee injury. Clearance wouldn’t come until the Auburn game.
Left tackle Jamaree Salyer also revealed that the Daniels people saw in the final three games of the regular season was not the same one teammates say in those early season practices.
“He had a bit of a rough patch with off-campus stuff. He was getting adjusted,” Salyer said. “Our defense has seen some blitzes, some coverages, just stuff. Out third-down period, nobody ever seen before, I ain’t never seen before on no football field. He was getting adjusted to that, understanding that these guys can really play.
Daniels ultimately went down to play with the scout team as a way to get more reps and build up that confidence he’s displayed since becoming the starter for Georgia.
The Bulldogs won all three games with him under center, as he completed 66 percent of his passes for 839 yards and a 9-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio.
“Once he started making those strides on the scout team, he came back,” Salyer said. “Once we brought him back to the one, the travel team, he was throwing the ball, had a different spin to it. He had a different level of confidence.”
To close the season, Daniels will face his toughest test to date as the Bearcats have the nation’s top defense based on yards per play allowed.
Daniels made it very clear he’s focused on sending this team out with a win rather than his own future. Monken though didn’t exactly hide his desire to see what Georgia could look like with Daniels under center in 2021.
“As we’re able to move forward, a guy like JT, who is certainly capable of distributing the ball, understanding where we want to go with the football,” Monken said. “It’s an exciting time, especially for me. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to have a legit off-season, be able to study what we did, what the difference is that we want to change as we move forward.”
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