Carson Beck or Brock Vandagriff? Georgia's QB2 battle will add an important chapter Saturday
The last time Georgia played a spring game, the quarterback room was just a bit different.
Jake Fromm was entering Year 3 as a starter, Stetson Bennett IV was back after a year at JUCO and D’Wan Mathis was the true freshman earning early praise. It was a few months removed from Justin Fields leaving Georgia for Ohio State, and to say that depth was lacking was an understatement.
Two years later, that’s not the case. The 2021 Georgia quarterback room has a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate in JT Daniels, who, like Fromm was in 2019, is the obvious starter.
Backing up Daniels is where it gets interesting.
Bennett is still there. He showed in 2020, at times, that he’s a capable SEC quarterback. If you need someone to come in at a moment’s notice because of a mid-game injury, he might be the guy. But if Daniels were to suffer a season-ending injury in late-September, Bennett as the permanent starter doesn’t really make sense. We saw how that played out last year.
What seems more likely is that the battle for QB2 involves redshirt freshman Carson Beck and 5-star true freshman Brock Vandagriff. Blue-chip recruit vs. blue-chip recruit … just as Kirby Smart drew it up.
How Smart handles his QB2 situation will again be intriguing. Saturday’s spring game should provide some key insight as to how this could play out.
Vandagriff, like Fields, enters as the highly regarded 5-star, in-state kid. If he becomes Smart’s second such quarterback to leave before never starting, yikes. But a lot of things would have to happen before that conversation could even come up.
For now, it’s Vandagriff and Beck fighting for the future. There’s a ton up for grabs, especially with Daniels getting all the way-too-early NFL Draft buzz. If and when Georgia finds itself in blowouts this year, which we should see a few more of because of the return to the normal schedule and this new offense, we’ll likely see Beck or Vandagriff.
As expected, both are earning rave reviews. When they’re brought up during camp, they’re in the same breath. Here was the earth-shattering quote Smart delivered when asked about the performance of his quarterbacks the last 2 weeks (via DawgNation):
“All three of those guys are getting reps, and all three of them are going to be good players,” Smart said, asked to assess the backup quarterbacks. “They continue to work hard, they all got reps today. Each one has a different strength and each one has a different weakness. For each one, they are growing.”
Groundbreaking stuff, truly.
Smart is going to play it down the middle as long as possible because the last thing he wants is one of them leaving and becoming a star somewhere else. Obviously. See: “Fields, Justin.” Georgia doesn’t do open practices — that practice was open to some boosters and parents but not the media — so the best insight we’ll get with that until the season starts is the spring game. We should be able to tell if Beck and Vandagriff really are at the same level, or if one looks more polished than the other.
Vandagriff might have the better raw tools, but Beck has the experience in the offense. We could get reminders of both things Saturday. If Vandagriff is late on a read and he throws a pick or if Beck under-throws a deep ball, that’ll add a little context to those narratives.
Beck is a bit more of an enigma because it’s not like we’re a few months removed from watching him. We didn’t get to see a spring game last year, yet we still heard about all of these great practices he had. Despite all of UGA’s quarterback movement, it was clear that Beck was getting a true redshirt season. His lone 2020 appearance was at the end of the Mizzou game, but he got 5 handoffs and 0 pass attempts.
As a true freshman, Beck wasn’t in the 2018 Fields role, and in all likelihood, Vandagriff won’t be, either. By “2018 Fields role” that means using him as a glorified wildcat quarterback at random moments. It’s possible that Smart could spell Daniels for Beck or Vandagriff like how Dan Mullen utilized that approach with Kyle Trask and Emory Jones. The difference, however, is neither Vandagriff nor Beck bring anything unique to the offense compared to Daniels.
The only scenario that could really present that would be if Daniels struggles mightily against pressure, and UGA turned to the more mobile Vandagriff to make throws outside of the pocket. But the idea of replacing a Year 4 preseason Heisman candidate for a true freshman to avoid a pass rush seems like backward logic.
What seems logical is that Smart is going to have that “or” tag listed by Beck and Vandagriff until further notice. If Smart plays his cards right, Daniels will be the 2021 version of Joe Burrow, and UGA will enter the 2022 offseason with Beck, Vandagriff and 5-star verbal pledge Gunner Stockton all in Athens. That’s the type of battle that Smart really hasn’t had. At least not deep into fall.
(Jamie Newman opting out prevented that from happening last year, and with Daniels reportedly not being physically up to speed, that battle didn’t have as much juice as it could have.)
In 2021, though, it’s all about the QB2 battle. Fair or not, Saturday is going to shape that discussion for months.
Our eyes will tell us more than Smart will. That’s fine.
At least we’re finally getting something we can see for ourselves.