Availability of Georgia QB JT Daniels uncertain for South Carolina

ATHENS — Thanks to Stetson Bennett’s scintillating performance last Saturday, Georgia coach Kirby Smart is facing a difficult decision when starting quarterback JT Daniels comes back from his injury. But as of Monday, Smart isn’t sure when Daniels will be back, so he doesn’t have to make that decision.

Bennett tied a school record with five touchdown passes in the first half of the Bulldogs’ 56-7 win over UAB starting in place of Daniels this past Saturday. No. 2-ranked Georgia (2-0) plays host to South Carolina (2-0) in each team’s SEC opener Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN).

“I don’t know anymore than I knew (Saturday night),” Smart said of Daniels’ recovery during the Bulldogs’ media day press conference on Monday. “He’s been in treatment twice and Ron (Courson) says he’s certainly improved. He threw the ball (in pregame warmups) Saturday more than he threw the ball all last week. So, he was better then than he was the previous days. I’ll know a little more after practice (Monday) in terms of his ability and his ability to move around and throw the ball. I know he’s been in treatment twice and the update from Ron is he has definitely improved.”

So, as of Monday, give the edge to Bennett. The redshirt senior from Blackshear could have played better only if he had connected on the two incompletions he threw against the Blazers and/or turned taken his 20-yard scramble the remaining 14 yards for another touchdown. As it was, he finished with an otherworldly quarterback rating of 422.43 going 10-of-12 for 288 yards and averaging 48.8 yards on his five touchdown passes.

Bennett was named the SEC’s offensive player of the week. He did have to share the honor with Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez, Jr. who had 206 yards rushing in the Wildcats’ win over Missouri.

It’s not likely that who starts at quarterback on Saturday is going to be an extremely critical decision for Smart. South Carolina is expected to struggle through a rebuilding year in its first season under coach Shane Beamer. The Gamecocks won their first two games over Eastern Illinois and East Carolina, but had to come from 14 points down Saturday to defeat the Pirates. In Las Vegas, Georgia opened as a 32-point favorite.

Daniels’ health and physical well-being is more important for the long haul. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound redshirt junior is dealing with an injury that can really linger if not handled just right.

Smart revealed Monday that Daniels had been dealing with the side-torso muscle strain before the opener against Clemson and aggravated it in the 10-3 win over the Tigers, then ranked No. 3 in the nation.

“The biggest thing with that we’ve been told is you just don’t want to aggravate it (again),” Smart said Monday. “... Something happened in the Clemson game to fire it back up. We don’t know. We went back and watched the tape and he didn’t take a lot of shots. But there was one on the first play of the game that he took that may have made it worse than it was going into the game. For whatever reason, he woke up Sunday and that’s when he really felt it. It’s a really, really painful injury that is hard to heal. It takes time. But, again, he’s improved with each and every game.”

At this point, it’s abundantly clear that Bennett will get the call if Daniels can’t go. The real question now is how redshirt freshman Carson Beck fits in.

Smart had referred to Beck repeatedly as Georgia’s No. 2 quarterback going into the UAB contest. But Beck wasn’t handled that way in that game. He came in for Bennett every third series and offensive coordinator called the game much more conservatively whenever Beck was under center.

Beck finished 4-of-10 passing for 88 yards and recorded his first career touchdown pass. But he also threw an interception that UAB returned 61 yards for its only score.

Smart said they hope that Beck will be involved in the game plan this week as well.

“Sure, I’d love to keep Carson involved, but I don’t know where those reps are going to go,” Smart said. “It’s hard to prepare three quarterbacks, I can tell you that.”

Georgia quarterback Carson Beck hands off to running back Kenny McIntosh against UAB during the second half Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint says neither he nor the Bulldogs’ other wideouts are concerned about who’s playing quarterback.

“I believe no matter who’s in at quarterback, they’re going to do the job that they need to do to get the job done,” Rosemy-Jacksaint said. “We’re blessed to have four QBs in our system that can sling the rock and give us the ball. So, it doesn’t matter who’s in there. No matter who we put in there to play, they can do the job just as well as anybody else.”

Daniels is 22-of-30 for 135 yards and no touchdowns so far this season. Last year, the Bulldogs went 4-0 when he took over for Bennett, who suffered a shoulder injury in a loss to Florida. Daniels completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns with two interceptions in wins over Mississippi State, South Carolina, Missouri and No. 8 Cincinnati.

Bennett came off the bench to lift Georgia to a Game 1 win over Arkansas, then started the next five games. He completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 1,179 yards with 8 TDs and 6 interceptions for the year.

Georgia also has the option this week of playing freshman Brock Vandadriff, who came in for the final few plays against UAB, all of which were runs. But it’s hard to imagine anybody playing at a higher level than Bennett did this past week.

It’s also hard to imagine the Bulldogs not rewarding that performance with another start, especially if Daniels’ prolonged healthiness is still in question.

“I’m just happy to see my teammates go out there this past weekend and make big, explosive plays to put us in position to win,” Rosemy-Jacksaint said. “So, I feel like Stetson did his job, we did our job as a unit and we just went out there and played a great game.”