With an unexpected off week, will Georgia's quarterback situation change?
Right around the end of Georgia’s loss to Alabama, JT Daniels’s name was trending nationwide on Twitter. And it was basically for the reasons you might expect. The Southern Cal transfer, yet to play this season while in the latter stages of recovering from an ACL tear, could only watch from the sidelines as things played out in Tuscaloosa.
But let’s set the table before moving on: Did Stetson Bennett IV struggle against the Tide? Well, yes — he had some strong moments throughout the first half but made some key mistakes at inopportune times. It’s evident that the distance between Bennett and Mac Jones is fairly wide right now, and it showed.
And once again, some Dawgs fans are wondering whether Kirby Smart picked the right guy at quarterback in the first place.
In Smart’s defense, though, he was backed into somewhat of a corner before the season began. Jamie Newman, the likely starter, opted out shortly before the opener against Arkansas. Daniels was not medically cleared until before the Auburn game and has yet to take a snap since Aug. 31, 2019, against Fresno State.
That left it to Bennett and D’Wan Mathis. Mathis started, got an early hook and Bennett took the reins, holding on to the position ever since. And he’d played well enough to win over the past few games. “Well enough to win,” though, wasn’t enough against a team that has now won its past 6 against the Dawgs.
So after a showing from Bennett on Saturday that left much to be desired, and with a bye week ahead, the question might need to be raised: Is a change at quarterback necessary?
It’s far from a clear-cut “yes or no” answer. There’s a risk for each player.
Has Bennett’s confidence wavered? Can he bounce back from Saturday’s loss?
How ready is Mathis? Mentally to run a new offense and physically to hold up if plays break down. His health issues put his development behind schedule and there is risk of Daniels doing further damage to an already injured knee and being unable to recapture the promising form he had as a true freshman at USC.
I won’t pretend to be able to read Smart’s mind, but those are only a few of the factors he’s sure to be weighing. Returning to Bennett, in hopes that the former walk-on can use the off week to work out some of the holes in his game and be prepared to lead this offense, is a more likely possibility. Even so, you have to wonder what Georgia’s ceiling is with him, and if he and they reached it already. To that point, we still haven’t seen Daniels, who, for all we know, could outperform Bennett and Mathis.
Then there’s Mathis. What’s his ultimate role this year? Seventeen pass attempts in a quarter-plus of play to start the season can’t be all we see of him, can it? I would have liked to see a bit more of him against the Razorbacks to see if he would have gathered strength as the game went on.
Quarterback aside, Georgia has much going for it. It still has a dominant defense despite an off-day against an elite Bama offense. The run game looks somewhat promising and looks to be trending upward. But without a confident, productive signal-caller on the other side of the ball, you won’t have enough to truly establish yourself in this conference.
And that’s just talking about this season. In 2021, the dynamic dual-threat Brock Vandagriff, who lives a mere 20 minutes away from Sanford Stadium, will step into the conversation, and we’ll likely see yet another quarterback battle in preseason camp.
But next year is next year. This year, Georgia is 3-1, with a Kentucky team waiting in Lexington on Oct. 31 that will be looking to play spoiler. That was conveniently rescheduled the week before the Cocktail Party game against Florida in Jacksonville, so the Dawgs can’t afford to look past a Wildcats defense that just might be starting to put things together.
No one’s going to consider this latest scenario Jake Fromm vs. Justin Fields 2.0. For everyone that thought Smart made the wrong call between those 2, let’s hope that the call he ultimately makes this time around is the right one for this program moving forward.
And with a previously unscheduled bye week ahead of him, he has plenty of thinking to do.