ATHENS — JT Daniels had the highest quarterback rating of any returning player in college football over the final stages of the season, per ESPN metrics tracking games after Nov. 20.
The takeaway, when one considers Georgia brings back all of its top receivers, running backs and three starters from a stacked offensive line room, is the Bulldogs are primed to have the “it” offense of 2021 in college football.
Daniels went 4-0 over the final four games of the season, completing 67 percent of his passes with 10 TDs and just one interception, and his numbers could have been even better had Kirby Smart not taken his foot off the gas in lopsided wins over South Carolina and Missouri.
Per the ESPN pay-site article, Daniels’ QB Rating after Nov. 20 (89.1) was bettered only by Mac Jones and Zach Wilson, but ahead of such notable quarterbacks talents as:
• Justin Fields (86.5)
• Jayden Daniels (86.3)
• Matt Corral (86.2)
• Sam Howell (84.7)
Smart has hinted things will be different on offense this season, discussing the team’s “DNA” on a Tuesday Zoom call, and conceding that the offense is ahead of the defense at this stage of the offseason.
That might not seem like such a revelation, but Georgia has ranked higher in total defense than total offense Smart’s first five seasons on the job.
Smart has made a concerted effort to get Georgia’s Pro Style offense on par with the championship efforts the past three seasons from Alabama, LSU and Clemson.
Smart said after the 2019 SEC Championship Game the Bulldogs were calling many of the same plays, running many of the same routes as the Joe Burroughs-led Tigers across the field. That UGA receiver group, however, was not as effective at getting open.
Georgia hired former NFL offensive coordinator Todd Monken after the 2019 season to install Air Raid principles and work to create more plays in space.
Part of the reason Smart relied more heavily early on was on account of the personnel he inherited, specifically, future NFL starters Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The Bulldogs also featured a behemoth offensive line, and had a salty defense and strong kicking game to compliment.
It was a formula that fell one play short of winning the College Football Playoff Championship Game in 2017, and had the Bulldogs’ on the controversial edge of making the 2019 CFP, despite sitting ADs from rival schools Georgia Tech and Florida sitting on 13-person jury known as the playoff committee.
Smart made the move in 2019 to land standout wideouts George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock, and in 2020, Georgia signed three receivers rated among the nation’s top 100 players and a 5-star tight end.
When Daniels — a 5-star gunslinger from Southern Cal — was looking for a place to transfer last spring, he had his pick of such top-level programs as LSU, Ohio State, Oregon and Michigan. Tennessee tried to recruit Daniels, too.
But once Daniels started talking to Monken and Smart about the Bulldogs’ offensive future, and saw the receivers, offensive line and backs that would be around him, he went all-in on Georgia.
Two 5-star quarterbacks have been added to the mix since, with Brock Vandagriff among 16 early enrollees this spring, and 5-star Gunner Stockton a hard commitment in the 2022 Class.
Another nifty — and telling — statistic from the ESPN metrics was just how much more efficient Daniels was in the vertical passing game than the quarterbacks who preceded him in 2020.
Georgia quarterbacks were 9-of-34 passing on throws more than 20 yards downfield the first six games of the season, with a Raw QB Rating of less than 62.
Daniels, in his four games, was 12-of-27 on passes more than 20 yards downfield for 472 yards and 4 touchdowns for a QB rating of 98.1 on those deep throws.