J.T. Daniels fought the good fight and it paid off for Georgia football.
Georgia football quarterback J.T. Daniels has become an overnight sensation. He is an instant fan-favorite among the Bulldog Nation. Georgia loves him and the feeling seems to be mutual as he told Marc Weiszer, “I absolutely love the state of Georgia. I had been in the South one time for the Manning Passing Academy and I fell in love with it” after he asked him why he came to Georgia. This seems like a match made in football heaven.
However, this fairy tale didn’t have such a storybook beginning. Daniels hadn’t been on a football field since August 31, 2019. It was on that night that he tore the ACL in his right knee. After leaving the field he saw his opportunity to play starting quarterback for the University of Southern California fade as if Thanos had snapped it away.
With his football future in question, Daniels entered the transfer portal looking for a new team to lead. Enter head coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs. Daniels committed to Georgia and prepared to play football on the other side of the country. However, at the time he committed to Georgia he was still in a knee brace and spring practice had been canceled in the SEC.
Daniels didn’t step on campus until June when on-campus workouts resumed. Even then it was hard to evaluate him, as Coach Smart put it, “he had a big knee brace on, we’re investing reps in him and he can’t move.” With so few reps to go around and four capable quarterbacks ready to go, Daniels fell to the wayside as Georgia prepared to open their season.
However, being the fighter that Daniels is he pulled Coach Smart to the side and asked to practice with the scout team offense. He knew that he wasn’t ready to practice and compete for the starting quarterback job, but he still wanted to throw it around in practice. Coach Smart obliged him and that is when he started to notice Daniels’ mobility coming back little by little.
“When I noticed it was when he was down there with us (on the scout team)”, Smart told reporters Saturday night. Daniels didn’t pout, he didn’t take his ball and go home, he found a way to compete and show the coaches that he was improving week to week.
“I wasn’t cleared for Arkansas. From then on, it was a coach’s decision”, Daniels told reporters, “I felt like after Arkansas that I was ready to go and play football. I will say I’ve progressed a long way since then. We’ve still been working on getting strength back.” Daniels himself admitted that even after he was cleared the leg still wasn’t quite right, he still needed to get it back up to strength.
That all began to change when Georgia football’s schedule got changed and the Bulldogs were looking at an early bye week. “The best look he got was the off week before Kentucky, Smart told reporters, “That was when he started getting more and more reps.” So let’s put this in context, Daniels has been getting game preparation reps for the last five weeks, while Bennett and Mathis have been getting game preparation reps for 12 plus weeks. This is why Daniels was behind.
However, Daniels was champing at the bit to finally get his shot to show what he could do. All of the work he put in and the patience he showed finally paid off Saturday night under the lights in Sanford Stadium. Daniels made his first start for Georgia football against the Bulldogs of Mississippi State and it is a night that many fans will not forget for a very long time.
Daniels did not disappoint in his debut. He came out on fire only throwing one incompletion in his first seven passing attempts. He would end the night completing 28 of his 38 passing attempts for 401 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. This was exactly what Georgia has been waiting for at their quarterback position. In fact, this was the first time a Georgia quarterback has had 400 yards passing since Aaron Murray did it seven years ago.
He connected with eight different receivers, most notably Jermaine Burton who caught eight passes for 197 yards, just eight short of Georgia’s single-game record for receiving yards. Burton also added two touchdowns to his night. The connection between Daniels and Burton was cut short as Burton left the game with an injury late in the second half.
If Burton is out for a prolonged period of time Daniels can build on the connection he formed with sophomore receiver George Pickens. He was able to complete eight passes to Pickens as well for 87 yards and a score. This was the best game, by far, that Pickens has had all season. What a difference it makes when you have someone delivering the ball that can put it where he needs to.
The Cinderella Story for Daniels is just getting started, and it is a long way from finished. There will be another chapter added next week as he takes on former South Carolina and former Georgia football quarterback, and now interim head coach, Mike Bobo. The Gamecocks have had their top two defensive backs Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu opt-out for the season, so expect more fireworks from Georgia’s passing game.
Can he top the 400 yards and four touchdown performance he put on in Athens last night? We will see, however, the more important thing is Georgia football has found their quarterback, and Daniels has started down the road to redemption. If there is one thing we know about Daniels going forward it is that he will never stop working and doing everything he can to get better.
So strap in Georgia football fans, this is just the beginning, Daniels’ story is far from over and there is reason to believe that it could get a whole lot better. This marriage between his ability and Todd Monken’s offense could be quite special, and you don’t want to miss a thing.