ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart liked the start his team got off to with the open date approaching and made it clear the competition is alive and well at several positions.
Most notably, Smart confirmed USC transfer quarterback JT Daniels is getting a lot of work this week in competing with three-game starter Stetson Bennett and opening game starter D’Wan Mathis.
“JT is going out each day, working,” Smart said on the SEC Coaches Teleconference on Wednesday. “I think his mobility is getting better as time goes through and he’s moving around,”
Daniels chose Georgia over Tennessee, Michigan and Washington in transferring in to Athens in May. His decision left many in shock with the Bulldogs having such a full quarterback room at that time.
But the lure of working with an offensive coordinator like Todd Monken, whose Air Raid concepts were similar to Daniels’ grooming at California powerhouse Mater Dai High School and USC, was too much to resist.
Smart spoke in the preseason of how Daniels was competing with Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman in fall drills, with the expectation being that Daniels would be cleared by the season-opening game against Arkansas.
But in the lead up to the opener, Daniels’ knee was not cleared, and the UGA offense had to scramble to get D’Wan Mathis and Bennett ready.
When Mathis was unable to generate any points on the first six drives of the Arkansas game, Smart turned to Bennett in the bullpen, and the redshirt junior sparked the offense to 35 points in the 31 minutes he played against the Razorbacks.
Bennett continued to get the majority of reps with the Ones in the weeks that followed, knocking off Top 25 teams Auburn and Tennessee and earning more trust.
Alabama made some adjustments to Bennett in the second half, intercepting him twice and holding UGA scoreless the final 30 minutes.
Daniels removed the protective brace that had been on his right knee before the Tennessee game, a sign that would seem to indicate that, in addition to being cleared, he’s comfortable and confident enough to play in games.
It’s led to speculation that Smart would use the bye week as competition for the quarterbacks, something Smart confirmed by essentially saying there’s competition at all the positions during the off week.
“He (Daniels) is taking a lot of reps and growing,” Smart said on Wednesday, “and he’s competing just like D’Wan is and Carson (Beck) is.”
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs are idle on Saturday, their originally scheduled game with Kentucky moved back to noon on Oct. 31. The SEC office rescheduled league games on account of COVID-19 outbreaks in the Florida and Vanderbilt football programs.
Smart said there were some “very glaring” takeaways from Georgia’s 41-24 loss to No. 2 Alabama last Saturday, on defense as well as offense.
“Very glaring, some things we need to work on, in terms of defensive penalties, defensively we had some explosive plays,” Smart said.
“And then offense, we can’t get in a boat race where we’re trying to outscore people,” he said. “We have to play our brand of football and help Stetson with the people around him, is probably the No. 1 thing.”
Smart said it definitely wasn’t Georgia’s best game, but he said Alabama had a lot to do with that.
“Look, we definitely didn’t play our best game, but at the same time we were playing our best opponent, best level of competition we’ve gone up against was there, and that’s how you get better.”
Smart said it was’t all as bad as it might have seemed.
“You’ve got to go out and compete and play, and we actually did some things better than we’ve done in other games, we’re just doing it against a lot better competition,” he said.
“We’ve got to improve this week, and I’ve really been pleased with the attitude and approach of the guys thus far.”
Georgia football coverage
Kirby Smart discusses QBs JT Daniels, D’Wan Mathis getting reps