Switching starting quarterbacks to face Florida in Jacksonville backfired for Georgia the last time it made the move in 2015 under a previous staff.
Turning to unproven third-stringer Faton Bauta was a gamble that didn’t pay dividends in a 27-3 loss.
If Georgia coach Kirby Smart doesn’t stick with Stetson Bennett Saturday to start for top-ranked Georgia against unranked Florida, his other option is the guy who hasn’t lost as a Georgia starter and held the job before a strained lat muscle sidelined him.
JT Daniels is 7-0 as a Bulldogs starter and has had the bye week to help mend from an injury that has kept him out since a 62-0 rout of Vanderbilt on Sept. 25, but Smart said last week Daniels showed “rust,” as he increased his practice reps.
So now that it’s game week, Smart summed up the quarterback decision in relatively simple terms on Monday.
“It’s going to be based on practice,” he said. “No decision has been made whatsoever.”
Bennett, who also started against UAB in Week 2 when Daniels was out with an oblique injury, leads the SEC with a 210.93 passing efficiency rate, ahead of Alabama’s Bryce Young’s 180.04, and is tops in yards per attempt at 12.2.
Bennett’s passing efficiency for three games starting in October — all against top 20 teams at the time in Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky — ranks sixth nationally at 188.37, according to Cfstats.com He threw five touchdowns and no interceptions in those games. Daniels’ season pass efficiency rating is 160.75 with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Bennett’s “confidence is there now,” offensive tackle Warren McClendon said. “Just having him getting the reps, we believe in him, we trust him.”
Daniels has completed 76.1% of his passes this season and has three games in his Bulldog career throwing for more than 300 yards passing, including against South Carolina this season.
Smart was peppered by QB questions during his regular Monday game week press conference.
Smart was asked if it was likely that both Bennett and Daniels will play against Florida.
“It’s going to depend on how they practice and what they do,” he said. “Is it likely that we will see both of them? I don’t know that. I haven’t seen practice today. I’d like to see practice today to know a little bit better to know, OK, where’s he at. Based on Wednesday and Thursday, he was able to throw without pain. That’s step one. The next step is can I move? Can I throw with accuracy? Can I do all the things required to play quarterback? I don’t know if he can do those things just yet. We’ll see by how he practices this week.”
What about rotating quarterbacks week to week or during a game?
“I’ll say it again, I’m really OK with whoever the best guy that gives us the best chance to win is,” Smart said. “That’s based on practice and health and it will continue to be that way the rest of the year. The question of ‘Are you OK rotating them’ is really not relevant if they’re not both completely healthy.’ I’ll just go off of A, are they healthy, and who gives us the best chance to win based on what we think we need to do offensively against their defense.”
Smart elaborated more on that best chance to win thinking in an interview last week with ESPN.com.
“I’m not sure we know who the better one is based on which game plan we have,” Smart said. “There are teams we play that we have to be able to use the quarterback in the run game. Well, that’s Stetson. There are teams we play that you have to get the ball out quickly and be really accurate. That’s JT. But the first thing with JT is that he’s got to be healthy.”
On Monday, he brought up tight end Darnell Washington who returned from an ankle injury after missing four games, but was brought along slowly.
Smart said Daniels “did practice Wednesday and did pretty good and he did practice Thursday and did well in terms of didn’t have pain before, during or after. That’s what we’re looking for. Is it bothering him today? No. Can you throw today? Es. Did you throw today? Yes. How is it feeling after? Not pain there. Again, we continue down that same path today to see how he feels. The good thing is he’s got a good Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Really, almost four days once you count the last practice to this practice.”
Wide receiver Ladd McConkey said he wouldn’t describe Daniels as “rusty” with his time off between games.
“He obviously has to get back in rhythm,” he said. “He’s prepared since the offseason for this moment. Just getting back in the rhythm getting back in the swing of things.”
Bennett’s final start in 2020 came against the Gators. He completed just 5 of 16 passes for 78 yards with a touchdown and interception but sustained a shoulder injury in the game.
“He made a big jump from last year to this year,” inside linebacker Quay Walker said. “Really, really proud of Stetson.”
Daniels, the Southern Cal transfer, started the final four games last season after Bennett started five straight.
McConkey is fine to leave the quarterback decisions to Smart and offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
“That’s why coaches get paid all that money,” he said. “They make that decision. It’s a good thing I don’t have to, but I am really confident either way it goes.”