ATHENS – Georgia coach Kirby Smart said there was never any discussion of switching to quarterback JT Daniels during Saturday night’s SEC Championship game loss to Alabama, even casually over the headphones.
Stetson Bennett, the Bulldogs’ senior quarterback, passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns in the 41-24 loss, but he also threw two interceptions – including a pick-6 – and had two other potential interceptions dropped by Alabama defenders.
As Georgia fell behind by two scores, then three in the fourth quarter, many thought the Bulldogs might turn to Daniels.
“Obviously, we have to play better in a lot of areas, but to put any part of that blame or all of that blame on Stetson, there was a lot more to it,” Smart said during a video conference call Sunday with reporters. “We’ve got to play better around him. We’ve got to play better on special teams and defense, really all facets of the game.”
Daniels, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior, is known for having exceptional accuracy and thought to be a better overall passer than Bennett. The former 5-star prospect from Irvine, Calif., played at the same Mater Dei High School as Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. Young, a sophomore, carved up Georgia’s defense to the tune of 421 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Daniels has played only in the second half of lopsided games against Missouri, Charleston State and Georgia Tech since returning from a back injury the last week of October. In six games and three starts this season, he has completed 72% of his passes for 722 yards, 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Bennett, a 5-10, 190-pound, fifth-year senior, has completed 64.1% of his throws for 2,325 yards, 24 TDs and 7 interceptions in 12 games and 10 starts.
“There were some really, really, really good throws last night by Stetson, some throws that only his guy could catch the ball,” Smart said. “He made some good plays. We’ve got to continue to work on some poor decisions and the couple of throws there that were picked off.”
Bennett was under a good bit of pressure from the Crimson Tide defense most of the night. He was sacked three times for a total of 17 yards in losses, including 10 yards on one play. Without the sacks, he averaged 7.0 yards rushing on four runs.
Meanwhile, Bennett actually set an SEC Championship game record for ball distribution by completing passes to 11 different receivers on Saturday. Most of them were to freshman tight end Brock Bowers. Targeted 16 times by Bennett, Bowers also established an SEC Championship game record for receptions by a tight end with 10 for 139 yards and a touchdown.
Smart did not rule out making a change or reincorporating Daniels into the offensive game plan before the Orange Bowl. After the loss to Alabama, the Bulldogs fell to No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, but will play No. 2 Michigan in the national championship semifinals on Dec. 31 (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
“We have a decision to make every week at every position, but I have the utmost confidence in Stetson Bennett,” Smart said after the game Saturday. “I think he did some really nice things. We go and reevaluate everything all the time, but he played well. It’s a tough environment we put him in defensively and we have to be able to run the ball … But I certainly have a lot of confidence in Stetson. And I have a lot of confidence in JT too.”
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