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Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) during the Bulldogs' game with Tennessee in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. (Photo by Perry McIntyre)
Perry McIntyre

Georgia quarterback JT Daniels real takes, why third downs are personal to him

ATHENS — Georgia quarterback JT Daniels places a priory on third down, when quarterbacks often make break a potential scoring drive with the ability to convert.

The Bulldogs rank fifth in the nation in third down-conversions so far this season at .579. Daniels also ranks fifth in the nation in QB Rating (85.6), two spots behind Ole Miss QB Matt Corral (89.3) and four spots ahead of Alabama’s Bryce Young (84.2).

Up next for No. 2-ranked Georgia and Daniels is Vanderbilt (1-2) in a noon kick (SEC Network) in Nashville.

The Bulldogs look to maintain the pass game momentum they’ve built the past two games.

Georgia is coming off an 8-of-12 third-down conversion night against South Carolina last Saturday with Daniels 7 of 11 on his opportunities and a perfect 7 for 7 passing for 65 yards (six first-down throws) against the Gamecocks.

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Taking it personal

Daniels is a football junkie, and each time he talks it’s clear the world revolves around the sport for him.

“Third downs are a huge deal for me, personally,” Daniels explained on Wednesday night. “When you are in third down, there’s a lot less you can do in terms of play-action, or running the ball., RPOs. A lot of things that make the game easier kind of go away on third down.

“So a lot of third-down is pure drop-back passing, something I’ve always prided myself on and something that I always look to improve on,” he said. “Third down passing to me is an indicator of how well I’m doing and how well the offense is doing in the drop-back passing game,”

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When Daniels was asked about the Bulldogs’ third-down success last Saturday night after the game, he deflected.

“It was 11 players executing, (and)I definitely did my job on third down, but what we did is AD (Adonai Mitchell) hit his full route depth, we did a great job with pointing out who the mike is and there weren’t pressure issues,” Daniels said. “I had plenty of time on third down. Everybody did a great job executing their job.

Nobody tried to do too much, and nobody did not enough.

“When 11 players execute that’s what it looks like.”

Another dimension?

Daniels has shown he can run the offense from the line of scrimmage and make every kind of throw.

But he has yet to show the ability to make something happen with his feet, even though he believes he’s capable.

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Mind you, Daniels is 15-of-17 passing for 105 yards with 9 first downs and an interception on third downs.

But the pick came on a ball he threw up for tight end John FitzPatrick, counting on his friend and 6-foot-7 target to make a play against the defensive back.

Replays showed Daniels could have just as easily tucked the ball and run for a first down, something backup Stetson Bennett has proven adept at.

“I definitely think I’m a threat to take off when I have to take off,” Daniels said. “For me, personally — and really the position of quarterback the way I look at it — I’m the primary distributor.

“Can I take off and run? Yeah, but I’d much rather have James Cook run with it, or I’d much rather have Jermaine Burton running with it than myself.”

It’s a fair point, to be sure, and even more reasonable when one considers Daniels indicated he’s not yet 100 percent when asked about the strained oblique that kept him out of the UAB game.

Daniels’ dealing with injury

Daniels is still getting treatment for an injury he said occurred in fall camp.

The only documented instance of Daniels getting hit came in the Aug, 21 scrimmage, when Daniels took an unintended shot to the upper body when Jalen Carter threw a blocker back into the star QB.

“It’s getting better every day,” Daniels said. “It’s something that’s been hurt since fall camp and it never really goes away. You play Clemson, there was a little dip, so we focused on rehabbing more that week.

“Last week we rehabbed as much as we could, (and) It’s just gonna keep getting better and better,” Daniels said. “The more you are throwing it, the worst you will get if you’re not combating that with rehab, which we are doing a great job with right now.”

Coach Kirby Smart has said how Daniels’ practices plays a role in his playing time.

Daniels said after the game he was confident the injury would not get inflamed.

“How do I know it won’t come back? I trust Ron (Courson),” Daniels said, referencing UGA”s head trainer. “When they say I’m good to go, I’m good to go.

“I’ve had muscle pulls and strains before, and I never had one heal as fast and feel as good as it does right now.”

Daniels indicated he could have played against UAB, but he explained he supported the decision to rest him.

“I did suit up, I felt pretty good throwing in warm-ups, but I hadn’t got to practice as much as normal,” Daniels said, “and Coach made the decision to go with Stet and Carson (Beck).”

Subbing Stetson Bennett

Daniels opened the South Carolina game with two TD drives, both 6 plays and 75 yards, to give Georgia a 14-0 lead.

Smart, however, entered Bennett on the third series later citing the work Bennett had done in practice to earn the opportunity.

It might have been enough to disrupt the rhythm of some quarterbacks, but not the battle-tested Daniels, he of USC Trojan scars.

Daniels not only rolled with the decision — he converted three third down passes on the next drive and led the Bulldogs to another score — but he actually supported the coach’s decision.

“The initial decision with Stet going in, that was coach’s decision,” Daniels said last Saturday night. “I believe he felt both quarterbacks had earned playing time, and it’s really not something that’s very rare in college anymore.

“When you have a lot of confidence in multiple quarterbacks, you try them out and you see angles and how things are working,” he said. “But again, that was not my decision, that was a coaching decision.

“I’m pulling for Stet when he’s in and telling him what I”m seeing, and when I”m in he’s doing the same thing.”

Locked In

Daniels is ready to head to Nashville and fly the jet, this fast-moving offensive machine constructed by Todd Monken, armed with weapons the quarterback can deploy against Vanderbilt.

The philosophy of Monken’s Pro Style Spread offensive with Air Raid concepts is to find the holes in the defense and take what the defensive is giving.

Daniels shared he has a very aggressive interpretation of what “taking” means.

“In terms of me saying ‘take what the difference gives us,’ to me a one-on-one matchup where we can take a chance on a deep ball is taking what they give us,” Daniels said. “If they are going to give us one-on-one without a safety in the way to make it a two-on-one, to me that’s giving to us.

“One on ones are not 50-50 with AD and Jermaine; I think they are 80-20s.”

That confidence is one of the reasons Daniels’ receivers love him.

“I’ve told them I’ll throw them a jump ball four times in a row, don’t let it get picked,” Daniels said. “And I trust them, and trust they aren’t going to let the other team come down with it.

“So when I get one on one, to me you are giving me a chance, and I like that chance with the guys that we have.”

Feeling Georgia

Daniels ran his record as Georgia’s starting quarterback to 6-0 with the 40-13 win over South Carolina. Amazingly,

it was the first time he had played for the Bulldogs wearing a red jersey.

It was also the first time Daniels played in front of a sold-out Sanford Stadium, and he was blown away by the atmosphere.

“In terms of Sanford and 92,000 fans, it’s awesome,” Daniels said. “I had really never experienced ... I never believed in a home-field advantage too much until I saw a real SEC crowd,” he said. “Hearing that when it’s third down, it’s something else, I would hate to play against us in Sanford with what we do.”

For now, the only time Daniels has to face his defense is in practices, when Smart goes best on best.

Daniels is the first to admit, this Georgia defense can humble a player quickly.

“I think I looked a whole lot faster before the SEC came around,” Daniels said, asked about his mobility. “With guys like Nolan Smith there, there’s just nobody else like him anywhere.”

Daniels, in his own right, is also proving to be one of a kind.

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