Saturday marked the end of multiple droughts for Georgia football.
It was the first time in 42 days the Bulldogs scored more than 30 points. Saturday was the first game since the 2016-17 season that the Bulldogs donned their black jerseys. It was also the first time a Georgia quarterback surpassed the 400-yard threshold since Aaron Murray did so against Auburn in November of 2013.
Redshirt sophomore JT Daniels was that Georgia quarterback, as he completed 28 of 38 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns in No. 13 Georgia’s 31-24 victory against Mississippi State.
“It feels really good,” Daniels said during the virtual postgame press conference. “This is the first time I’ve taken a snap since August 31, 2019, in a whole nother part of the country and I really couldn’t be happier.”
Daniels started 11 games during his freshman season at Southern California. He added his 12th start as a Trojan against Fresno State to open 2019 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury and ultimately losing his starting role to then-freshman Kedon Slovis, which led to his decision to transfer to Georgia.
Daniels said that head coach Kirby Smart relayed the news he’d start against Mississippi State on Monday, meaning that it wasn’t until Week 9 — Georgia’s ninth game of the season — that Daniels took a snap in a Georgia uniform. The moment certainly came with a bag of emotions.
“At the end, on the victory formation, it started to sink in a little bit — it still really hasn’t yet — that I got to play football again,” Daniels said. “I really just felt a lot of gratitude. Gratitude for my family, for this team, for this coaching staff, for everyone for really helping me get back on my feet and play football again.”
It was an uneasy opening drive for Daniels. His first pass of the evening was to sophomore wide receiver George Pickens for a 28-yard gain. Later in the drive, his second pass was a near interception as it went off the hands of Mississippi State’s Aaron Brule. He followed that by taking a sack on third down to force the first of Georgia’s four punts.
Yet for the most part, that was the beginning and the end of Daniels’ struggles. He led Georgia to its first scoring drive on the following possession, completing 5 of 6 passes with the final one resulting in a touchdown. Heading into the half, he had accumulated 204 yards through the air for two touchdowns.
Despite mostly receiving practice reps on Georgia’s scout team, Daniels developed an early connection with Pickens and freshman receiver Jermaine Burton, who finished with a combined 16 receptions for 284 yards and three touchdowns.
“This week [during practice], we were slinging it around pretty good,” said wide receiver Kearis Jackson during the virtual postgame press conference. “We were able to showcase that tonight against a different opponent and it felt good knowing that the things he did tonight were something people wasn’t expecting.”
Even without a strong rushing effort from Georgia’s stable of running backs, Daniels routinely showcased his deep-ball accuracy against Mississippi State, who elected to play despite its heavily depleted roster. Daniels finished with eight passes going for more than 15 yards, the most for a Georgia quarterback this season.
“That’s what he does well. He gets the ball vertical and gives guys a chance one-on-one,” Smart said during the virtual postgame press conference. “He was accurate, and the one thing we said we had to be at that position was accurate.”
Georgia’s questions at quarterback have rumbled throughout the entire season. And while Daniels’ performance doesn’t cement him as Georgia’s starter for the remainder of the season, it grants him one more week under center.
“I would say it’s fair to assume that based on the way he played tonight,” Smart said. “He certainly showed poise and confidence and did some good things.”
Printed with permission from The Red & Black independent student media organization based in Athens, Ga.; redandblack.com/sports