With the news this week that quarterback JT Daniels is eligible to play at UGA this season, the national college football media has been full of speculation about a quarterback battle between the USC transfer and the other transfer QB that the Dawgs picked up in the offseason, Jamie Newman.
Some, including the oddsmakers, think Newman, who had considerable starting experience for Wake Forest and arrived in Athens in January, has the leg up. After all, he started all of last season for the Demon Deacons, and already has been training with his Dawgs teammates and learning the playbook. If there had been a spring practice, he would have been part of it.
The dual-threat graduate transfer drew so much buzz switching schools for his final college season that he quickly was anointed by Vegas as having the third-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy this year.
Meanwhile Daniels was the higher rated of the two as a high school prospect. But, starting college a year early, he had an up-and-down freshman season as the starter for the not-very-good Trojans in 2018.
He also missed all but the first half of the first game last year after tearing his ACL, and he only arrived in Athens in June, so he looks to be playing catch-up.
However, the NCAA granting Daniels eligibility to play right away at Georgia has created its own media buzz, with some, such as CBS Sports’ Barrett Sallee, predicting the more traditional drop-back passer, who has three years of eligibility remaining, ultimately will win the Georgia QB battle with Newman.
“It’s definitely going to be a big battle now,” Sallee said, adding that Daniels is “a really legit player.”
Although he granted that he’s offering an “unpopular” opinion, Sallee said he thinks “JT Daniels is going to start more games for Georgia this year than Jamie Newman.”
Leaning the other way is NFL blogger Rob Paul, who tweeted: “Georgia now has a fun QB battle w/ Jamie Newman vs. JT Daniels. Todd Monken has two potential NFL passers on his hands. Newman has all the physical tools and huge upside in the run game. Daniels is a more mechanically clean and accurate passer. Personally, I’d take Newman.”
Perhaps the Daniels buzz, replacing the earlier Newman excitement, is attributable mainly to a flavor-of-the-month mentality that shows up frequently in sports media.
Still, assuming there’s even a season played this year, there are upsides and downsides to the Dawgs having to choose between two transfer QBs who have considerable experience starting for Power 5 teams — in addition to a roomful of other contenders, three of whom are on scholarship, but all of whom are largely inexperienced.
Some tend to see the glass half full, noting that it’s always good to have two veteran quarterbacks on your roster. That particularly will be the case if the season goes ahead this fall, when there’s a definite danger of starters having to miss a couple of games after testing positive for COVID-19, or being exposed to those testing positive.
So, even if the starting QB avoids injury, there’s a reasonable chance the backup will be needed at some point. As CBS’ Sallee said of Georgia: “It’s a good problem to have … It gives them options.”
From that vantage point, having Newman and Daniels battling over the starter’s job when practice begins Aug. 7 looks like a best-case scenario for Georgia’s new offensive coordinator, Todd Monken.
Of course, it could be that neither player will establish himself as the clear-cut starter, in which case both might end up getting considerable playing time, perhaps even alternating, early in the season.
Even if there is a definite starter, though, quite a few folks are wondering whether Kirby Smart learned any lessons in the way he handled (or mishandled, some would say) having two talented QBs on the roster two years ago, when the battle was between Jake Fromm and Justin Fields. (Although, the difference between now and the Fromm-Fields battle is that these are two newcomers, both established starters at their former school, rather than a freshman trying to unseat a veteran coming off an ultra successful season.)
Regardless of how you think such a balancing act best should have been handled, there’s another faction of the UGA fan base that points to the old adage that, if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none.
Georgia’s had some seasons that back that bromide up (the lackluster 1979 season when Vince Dooey went back and forth between Buck Belue and Jeff Pyburn comes to mind).
But, there also have been years when the Dawgs have managed to get a backup QB significant playing time.
The best example was in 2002 and 2003, when David Greene was the established starter, but Mark Richt decreed that backup D.J. Shockley was going to play extensively — with Richt, at times, having his game plan scripted to get Shockley into the game, for a while even having the backup play the third series of each half.
On the surface, that seemed like a no-brainer. The more real game experience your backup quarterback gets, the better off you’ll be if your starter goes down for some reason.
But, while Shockley went on to become a UGA hero when he finally became the starter in his senior season, the scheme Richt used for him and Greene didn’t work all that smoothly.
Initially, there was some minor controversy among fans as to which QB should be starting, with a vocal minority lobbying for Shockley. Noises from the Shockley camp about him possibly transferring didn’t help. But, Richt wisely stuck with Greene, though he continued to give Shockley regular playing time.
Once Greene was established, the tide in fan sentiment turned a bit, at least in my section of Sanford Stadium. I remember fans gritting their teeth and muttering when Greene would be pulled according to Richt’s arbitrary game script to insert Shockley, frequently taking the momentum out of Georgia’s offense and disrupting Greene’s rhythm. It’s not like Greene wasn’t getting it done; it was simply Shockley’s turn.
But, Shockley the backup wasn’t nearly the confident, proficient player that Shockley the starter later would be, and he often tried to do too much in his brief time in the game, resulting in errors like that dismal pick he threw against Florida in 2002, resulting in a Gator touchdown.
At the same time, I’m sure Shockley’s assured performance his senior season was due, at least in part, to the playing time he’d had as a backup.
Still, while Greene was there, Shockley was the backup. They weren’t co-starters.
There also have been several instances where the backup eventually supplanted the starter for one reason or another (frequently injury), and a few seasons where there were multiple starters (almost always due to injuries).
However, there have been seasons during my years of watching Georgia football when the Dawgs not only have had two quarterbacks who essentially were co-starters, but wound up enjoying pretty successful seasons in that situation.
During the 1958 and 1959 seasons, Charley Britt was listed as the starting QB, though both he and Fran Tarkenton played. The Dawgs won the SEC in ’59. Those were the days of two-way players, though, and eventually Britt was spending more time on defense than he was behind center.
When Dooley first arrived in Athens, he instituted a dual-QB system in 1964 that saw Lynn Hughes and Preston Ridlehuber alternating taking snaps. That set a bit of a Dooley template, in that Hughes generally was considered the better passer and Ridlehuber more of a running QB, though they both actually passed and ran well.
The next season, Hughes became the starting safety on defense (where he became an All-American), but he also was listed as a QB, behind Ridlehuber and Kirby Moore, both of whom played. And, sure enough, Hughes played quarterback in a couple of games, including rushing for three TDs and passing for another (while also intercepting two passes on defense) in a wild 47-35 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
In 1966, Hughes again pulled two-way duty, replacing an injured Moore at QB in a win over Kentucky and then starting behind center to lead the Dawgs over the Tar Heels again, in Athens.
But, I agree with UGA football historian Patrick Garbin, who believes “UGA’s greatest quarterback tandem ever” is Matt Robinson and Ray Goff, who alternated behind center in 1975-76.
“There hasn’t been a better Bulldog tandem statistically,” Garbin said, “including the most important statistic of them all — wins and losses.” With Robinson and Goff at QB, Georgia went a combined 19-3 in ’75 and ’76. As Garbin noted, it was the first time UGA went to back-to-back major bowls since the early 1940s.
This time, there really was a clear difference in strengths between the two: Robinson primarily was a passer, while Goff was a running QB who always was a threat to break one in the veer option offense Georgia was running then.
As antiquated as using a running quarterback and a passing quarterback might sound now, in 1976 it worked well enough for Georgia to win the SEC Championship.
There’ve been other instances of successful QB tandems at other schools, too, with both Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer using them at Florida — Spurrier sometimes alternating them on each play!
Nowadays, tandem quarterbacks are exceedingly rare in Power 5 college football, and I’d say the odds are against Georgia using a true dual-QB system this year, though both Newman and Daniels are likely to see playing time.
Still, two experienced quarterbacks is a rarity we should enjoy while we have it. Contingencies always are a good thing.