Georgia offense finding its stride in Monken's first season

Taylor Gerlach | The Red & BlackGeorgia quarterback JT Daniels throws a pass in the first half against Mississippi State in Athens, Georgia on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart doesn’t have to replace his offensive coordinator after every season, though having a new play-caller for each of the past three may make it seem that way.

Jim Chaney was the first to go after the Bulldogs averaged 37.9 points per game during the 2018-19 season, leaving for Tennessee. James Coley left for Texas A&M one season later following Georgia’s decline to 30.8 points per game.

Todd Monken’s seen his fair share of hurdles in season one at Georgia. Jamie Newman — the presumptive starting quarterback through much of the offseason — opted out just over three weeks before Georgia’s first game. Monken then worked in quarterbacks D’Wan Mathis and Stetson Bennett through the first six games before rolling with JT Daniels in Georgia’s last three.

And for the past nine months, the COVID-19 pandemic has made any and every task more difficult than it normally would be. So, if Monken’s looking for excuses, they’d be easy to find. He didn’t make any during Tuesday’s virtual press conference. 

“It was tough without having spring, without … the preparation that you’d like,” Monken said.

Despite replacing last season’s starting quarterback, its two leading rushers and four starters along the offensive line, Georgia’s offense improved this season to 33.2 points per game. Perhaps more importantly, the Bulldogs are averaging 41.7 points per game since Daniels took over quarterback responsibilities against Mississippi State on Nov. 21.

While it came too late in the season for a chance to compete for the national championship, Georgia is finding the offensive results to match its talent.

“I think we have kind of hit a good stride,” said junior offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer during Tuesday’s virtual press conference. “I'm very excited about a lot of the young guys that are coming along and I'm excited that we have a quarterback back there that's throwing it and in command of the offense.”

As long as Daniels returns for next season, which is likely but never guaranteed, Georgia’s offense should carry this progress into 2021. But that’s the concern. Tight end Tre’ McKitty and offensive guard Ben Cleveland recently announced that they’re leaving for the NFL. They could be the only two on offense, but there could be many more. 

During Tuesday’s sequence of press conferences, Daniels, Salyer, running back Zamir White and wide receiver Kearis Jackson all claimed they had yet to consider staying for another season or turning pro.

“This week is Cincinnati and then once the offseason comes, we’ll be thinking about the offseason,” Daniels said.

Georgia’s Jan. 1 matchup with the Bearcats in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl could be a preview of what’s in store for next season. At this point, there’s no reason to believe Monken won’t return for a second season at Georgia. It’s safe to assume Daniels will return as well.

If others follow, it sets up Georgia to compete with SEC offenses like Alabama and Florida next season. And Monken shouldn’t have to jump over the same hurdles he has in 2020.

“It’s an exciting time, especially for me,” Monken said. “Hopefully we’ll have a chance to have a legit offseason, be able to study what we did, what the difference is that we want to change as we move forward.”

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