Will Georgia throw it enough to win big in 2021?
Anyone who watched Georgia football last season is well-versed in team’s dramatic offensive improvement once former Southern Cal transfer JT Daniels was inserted as the starting quarterback.
The raw numbers speak for themselves.
With D’Wan Mathis and Stetson Bennett behind center, the Dawgs’ offense was a sad trombone, constantly leaving yards on the field by averaging just 5.4 per play in the team’s first 6 games. With Daniels at quarterback, that number spiked to 7.5 per play (and 10.2 yards per passing attempt) over the final 4 games of the season — all Bulldogs wins.
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s scheme wasn’t the issue early on, and neither was the personnel around UGA’s quarterbacks. Turn on the tape of the losses against Alabama or Florida games and you could play an easy game of I-spy with how many missed throws there were with UGA players running wide open.
Daniels brought stability to the position, unlocking Monken’s vertical attack and getting the most out of dynamic playmakers like George Pickens, Jermaine Burton, James Cook and others. He finished the final 4 games with 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, averaging 307.8 yards per game.
Many expect Georgia’s offense to take another leap in Year 2 under Monken, especially with Daniels having more time to build strength in his knee, a full offseason in the system and just an absurd amount of returning production coming back to the Classic City.
The Dawgs are set to return nearly 99% of their rushing production, including the team’s top 5 runners, and 94% of their receiving production, really only losing backup tight end Tre’ McKitty (6 catches for 108 yards and a touchdown).
So the question then begs is what sort of leap will Georgia’s offense need to take in 2021 for Kirby Smart’s team to truly compete for a national championship?
The Dawgs should enter next season the favorites in the SEC East. The schedule sets up nicely and Smart has a loaded roster on both sides of the ball, even with some inexperience in the secondary. But to get back to the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2017, Smart and the Dawgs must truly unleash the passing attack next fall.
The days of even having a productive quarterback — say like Jake Fromm — get you to the title game appear over with college football’s offensive revolution.
You need a dude, paired with a system designed to create chunk plays.
Take a look at the last three title teams and where they ranked in terms of passing offense and passing explosiveness, all stats courtesy of cfbstats.com:
2020: Alabama, No. 3 nationally in passing offense (358.2 yards per game) and No. 2 nationally in 20+ yard completions (72).
2019: LSU, No. 2 in passing offense (401.6 yards per game) and No. 1 nationally in 20+ yard completions (88).
2018: Clemson, No. 23 in passing offense (279.0 per game) and No. 11 nationally in 20+ yard completions (60).
The Tigers appear to be a bit of an outlier here initially, but their passing attack surged once Trevor Lawrence took over at quarterback, plus the 3 other Playoff teams that season (Ohio State, Alabama and Oklahoma) all had absurd passing offenses. The aforementioned trio ranked in the top 7 nationally in yards per game and all finished inside the country’s Top 4 in passing explosiveness.
So can Monken + Daniels produce similar results in 2021?
I think so.
The pieces are in place. Daniels has the requisite tools and Monken has a system, while not full Air Raid, that is designed to attack defenses with lots of flood and vert concepts. With a stable of talented backs, Georgia is always going to run the football a lot, but it’s less about balance than it about efficiency and dialing up as many shots as possible. Monken gets this. It didn’t translate with Mathis or Bennett, but the result showed up quickly with Daniels pulling the strings.
Georgia still needs to tweak its offense some to reach elite status, but at least some positive signs were there late in the season once the change was made at quarterback.
The Dawgs deviated some from their typical mashball approach under Monken, but they still ran it too often on early downs to start the season. However, they improved their standard down approach (2nd and 7+) with Daniels, throwing the ball 71.4% of the time in said situations, per Brent Rollins of Pro Football Focus.
That figure translated higher than pass-happy schemes Ohio State (69.4%), Oklahoma (69.3%), Clemson (68.8%) and Alabama (61.9%).
Not wasting downs in 2021 is hardly stating more than the obvious, but that wasn’t something UGA was doing pre-Daniels last season. On those same standard downs with Bennett and Mathis at quarterback, the Dawgs threw the ball less than 55% of the time, per PFF. Once Monken had a guy behind center he trusted though, things changed.
The uptick in attempts naturally led to more explosive opportunities. In just 4 games, Daniels had 15 completions over 30+ yards. That was more than Auburn’s Bo Nix had all season (12 in 11 games) and on pace for what title-winning quarterback Mac Jones ripped off in 13 games (31). As a team, Georgia had 11 pass plays go for 40+ yards in Monken’s first year as the OC — tied for the school’s best since 2013.
If recent history is an indicator, UGA needs to replicate last season’s late-year production but turn it into a full season of offensive fireworks. If Daniels and Monken can make that happen, then the Dawgs should be right back in the national title conversation once again.