“That’s the greatest separator in the quarterbacks,” Smart told reporters about a half-hour after the scrimmage concluded Saturday. “It’s the comfort level with the offense and having the extra spring and extra fall that those (other) two guys don’t have. That rep volume is kind of the separator.”
Beck appeared to have been bolstered by his coaches’ confidence. He marched the No. 1 offense down the field for a score on the opening drive of the scrimmage, attended by Georgia football lettermen. Beck hooked up with Dominic Lovett, a first-year transfer from Missouri, on a 40-yard touchdown pass.
That was one of several impressive drives put together by the offense that will line up against UT-Martin in the season opener in two weeks. The performance atoned for a scrimmage dominated by the defense the Saturday before.
“The competition and ability to sustain was much better,” Smart said. “I was proud of that. I thought the offense started faster, made a few more explosives.”
Going forward, the Bulldogs will be fully focused on installing the offense around Beck’s relative strengths and weaknesses. With four years in Georgia’s system and Bobo sticking with Bulldogs’ terminology of the last three years, Beck is able to process a lot of information.
“He is very knowledgeable, very intelligent, one of the smartest quarterbacks I’ve been around when it comes to handling the volume of offense we want him to do,” Smart said.
It will be Beck’s performance when the games get under way that will determine whether he’s the quarterback of record for the 2023 season. Vandagriff and Stockton will continue to get occasional work with the No. 1 offense and are being asked to stay ready to get onto the field. Georgia will be a huge favorite against both the Skyhawks and Ball State in Week 2, so early opportunities should be available.
However, Smart indicated that the battle to be Beck’s backup has not been settled.
“They both have made plays,” Smart said of Vandagriff and Stockton. “They’ve made plays with their feet and they’ve made good checks. They’ve made mistakes and they’ve made good decisions. I have complete confidence we can win football games with both those guys. Carson is just ahead of them right now.”
It was somewhat of rare for Smart to name a starting quarterback ahead of the season opener. Most of his eight seasons as the Bulldogs’ head coach, he hasn’t had to.
In 2016, Smart’s first season, he did not name a starter before Greyson Lambert ended up taking the game’s first snaps against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game. Freshman Jacob Eason came in later and played most of that game, then was announced as the starter the next week.
In 2017, Eason was the incumbent starter and no formal announcement was made before the Bulldogs’ opener against Appalachian State. However, Eason suffered a knee injury in the first quarter, which led to Jake Fromm finishing the game. With Fromm leading the Bulldogs to the national championship game, Eason transferred to Washington at season’s end.
In 2018, Fromm beat out Justin Fields, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, in a competition that carried into preseason camp. However, no formal announcement was ever made. Fields took snaps in 12 games that season. He transferred at the end of the year and became the starter at Ohio State.
Fromm was the undisputed starter in 2019. After he turned pro in 2020, the Bulldogs embarked one of the craziest quarterback competitions ever seen in Athens. Jamie Newman was favored to be QB1 after transferring to Georgia from Wake Forest. However, he opted out of playing the COVID-19, pandemic-altered season.
Redshirt freshman D’wan Mathis won the right to start over Stetson Bennett in the road opener against Arkansas, though no announcement was made before that late-September game. Mathis performed poorly and was replaced by Bennett, who would start the next five games.
Bennett injured his throwing shoulder against Florida midway through that season. JT Daniels, who had transferred from Southern Cal over the summer, took over and started the last four games. Beck actually got into one game against Missouri that season.
Daniels was never formally announced as the starter the next season. However, his appearance with the Bulldogs at SEC Football Media Days that summer made it apparent Daniels was QB1.
Daniels injured his back in the 2021 season opener against Clemson and did not play the next week. All signs pointed to the Bulldogs going with Beck, then a redshirt freshman, in the Week 2 home game against UAB. But Bennett beat him out during practice that week, then went out and threw five touchdowns in the first half against the Blazers. Bennett started the rest of the season, with Beck getting mostly mop-up duty in four games.
Bennett asked for and was granted the opportunity to operate the entire offseason as QB1 as a condition for returning for a fifth college season. Beck served as the primary backup all year, playing in seven games, completing 74.3% of 35 passes for 310 yards and 4 touchdowns without an interception.
Beck reportedly asked for the same treatment heading into this season. He said he considered entering the transfer portal, but opted to remain with the Bulldogs in order to compete for championships.
“I could have went somewhere,” Beck told host Darrell Streeter on the Footballville podcast earlier this summer. “There were a lot of schools that did reach out to me and I did consider it at the time. I was frustrated and I was mad things didn’t go my way. But what we have at Georgia and the pieces around you at quarterback, it’s instrumental to your success.”
Beck knows that better than most. As a junior quarterback at Mandarin High in Jacksonville, he was named Florida’s “Mr. Football” after leading his team to the state championship and throwing five touchdown passes in the title game. However, that senior-laden team was decimated by graduation and Beck had a much less productive senior season.
At Georgia, Beck is surrounded by the best tight end in college football in junior Brock Bowers, a veteran wide receiver corps and a formidable offensive line. With some depth issues in the backfield, indications are that the Bulldogs will be throwing the football a lot in 2023. Beck has proven over the last eight months to be the most accurate and best decision-maker.
It became apparent that Beck was the likely starter as his reps with the No. 1 offense increased throughout preseason camp. With roughly 10 practices remaining over the next two weeks, Beck will be able to concentrate on honing his timing and defensive diagnostics with the first group.
“He’s done well prior to knowing (he’s the starter) and he’s done well post-knowing that,” Smart said Saturday. “And, to be honest, both Gunner and Brock have, too. They’ve done a tremendous job of growing and continuing to put the offense in positions to be successful and make explosive plays. They’ve all done a good job of that.”