ATHENS — The competition is back on for Georgia quarterback duties with Stetson Bennett’s return from a sprained AC shoulder joint suffered against Florida in question and the offense looking for improvement.
Coach Kirby Smart wouldn’t commit to Bennett being the starter at Missouri if he’s cleared to play, saying that’s a “great question, only to be answered by the end of the week.”
The No. 12-ranked Bulldogs (4-2) play at Missouri (2-3) at noon on Saturday looking to get back on track and climb back into the Top 10.
Smart said quarterbacks JT Daniels, D’Wan Mathis and Carson Beck will get work in the early part of the week with Bennett’s throwing status limited. Daniels suffered a torn ACL in USC’s 2019 season-opening game and hasn’t seen game action since.
Bennett took a hit to the shoulder in the second quarter of the 44-28 loss in Florida. The former walk-on missed a series in the first half while getting a shot to continue playing before Smart pulled him in the third quarter with Georgia down 41-21.
The injury has opened the door for Smart to re-evaluate the position going into the final four games of the regular season.
“We’re going to get all three of those guys ready, and the one that does the best job will be ready to play,” Smart said, referencing the three UGA back-up quarterbacks. “A lot will be determined by Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice for us.”
Daniels, an accomplished transfer from USC, will get his best look since the preseason, Smart indicated.
Smart honed in on the lack of accuracy when analyzing struggles in the pass game. Bennett has six interceptions in the past three games, 32-of-69 passing (46 percent).
Georgia has dropped to 13th in the SEC in passing efficiency and 11th in the league in passing offense.
“I think the number one thing I would say is accuracy … in terms of completion percentage, hitting open receivers,” Smart said. “We always say you’ve got to make your layups. That’s the most disappointing thing about the last couple of games is the accuracy and the ability to hit the open guys … so how do you improve that?
“You’ve got to improve your accuracy. Number one, when a guy has a chance to catch the ball, catch it. But when we got them open, we can’t overthrow them. We missed out on some opportunities there.”
Smart talked at length about Daniels, Bennett and Mathis.
The Bulldogs added Daniels in May, the first clear indicator that things were not working out ideally with Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman.
Newman opted out after the first fall scrimmage after splitting first-team reps with Daniels through the early stages of fall camp.
Smart: “JT, it’s like Stetson when he was down there (on scout team) before. Sometimes you get to do things without risk or reward because your job down there is to get the ball in the air, throw the ball, service the team, give them a good look. He’s not down there all the time. We have (Nathan) Priestly and Jackson Muschamp doing a good job as well. JT likes to go down there and compete and get to throw some. He spends time with our offense, he’s in all the meetings with our offense, and he goes down there and throws every now and then.
“JT has got a good arm, there’s no doubt about that. It’s one of those deals where he’s getting better and better every day with mobility, and we feel he’s good he’s able to move around and do some things with us, and again, he’s going to get some reps with Stetson out and find out where he is.
“The great thing about JT is he begged to go down to the scout team to get work when he wasn’t early on — he wanted to go down and compete and throw and get better against our defense. So it’s not like he’s been sitting on the shelf not getting throws. He’s been getting a lot of those.”
Smart said much of how Bennett’s work week looks like will be determined by how his shoulder tests out. Obviously, Smart indicated, the AC joint sprain also has an effect.
Smart: “It complicates (Bennett) getting better because I don’t know how much work he gets. If he’s able to go, he’ll get some reps. If he’s not able to throw, his reps will be cut down on. Accuracy comes with experience, accuracy comes with timing, accuracy comes with consistency and who’s out there. So if it’s one receiver, he might be running 21 mph, and if it’s another receiver he might be running 22.
“But you’ve got to hit your layups, you’ve got to be accurate, that’s probably the number one unifying (attribute) at the quarterback position. Accuracy ranks right up there with managing it, not turning it over But accuracy is probably the defining factor of that position and we haven’t been accurate in terms of completion percentage, at last not consistently, we’ve been there in spurts. But we weren’t Saturday.”
Talking about Mathis, the redshirt freshman from Metro Detroit who is less than two years removed from emergency brain surgery, Smart clearly likes his fight.
Smart: “The number one thing (with Mathis) is accuracy, he has to improve that. The number two thing is the management of the offense, in terms of play call, communication, motion, shifts, snap count, a lot of things of that nature which he has improved on. He’s gotten the opportunity to work with the twos for three or four weeks and grown and gotten better.
“He got an opportunity the other night in the game to see where he is. I think he understands he has to improve and work, and he’s willing to do that. He’s committed to trying to get better to help the team. He’s an extremely compassionate competitor, you see it when he runs, right? He tries to run guys over whether he can or he can’t.
“That part is a great redeeming quality about him, but he has to grow up in other areas and he’s got to improve, and he wants to do that. He wants to become a complete player.”