ATHENS – Georgia resumed practice in earnest Wednesday. That meant the quarterback discussion must resume, of course.
At least that’s what happened just a few minutes into Kirby Smart’s remarks about the Orange Bowl and the Bulldogs’ Dec. 31 matchup against No. 2 Michigan in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
With the completion of final exams Wednesday, Georgia went to work on the Wolverines. The assumption is that was with senior Stetson Bennett as the starting quarterback, but that’s not a certainty.
“I think we have four really good quarterbacks in our system,” said Smart, holding up four fingers when asked if there might be a change at that position. “I really feel confident in four guys that can play quarterback for us. I continue to say and repeatedly say that all those guys are evaluated each and every day.”
So, apparently Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff have just as much of a chance of starting in the Orange Bowl as do Bennett or JT Daniels. There was no word on whether quarterback signee Gunner Stockton might be able to gain eligibility in the next two weeks.
The reality is, Smart is weary of answering the question and reporters are weary of asking it. The fact is, Bennett heads into the postseason as Georgia’s primary quarterback. There is no evidence that says otherwise.
A senior and former walk-on from Blackshear, Bennett has started the past nine games and 10 overall this season. The Bulldogs are 9-1 in those games, with the one loss coming against Alabama in the SEC Championship game.
The absence of former starter Daniels throughout that span is curious, to say the least. A 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior who missed five games with a back injury, Daniels has appeared in the second half of only three games since he was medically cleared Oct. 17.
Questions about whether Daniels should have played more since then arose again when Bennett struggled in the second half against Alabama. He was 29-of-48 passing for 340 yards with three touchdowns in the game, but also threw two interceptions, and the Bulldogs twice turned the ball over on downs.
“Stetson did some really good things in the Alabama game,” Smart said. “He made a couple bonehead plays, as well, that he has not done in the past. Just like we reassess every single position, just like I said after the game, we reassess everything by how you practice, what you do and everything you do.”
Smart did emphasize an area of the game in which Bennett is superior to Daniels.
“His feet have been a blessing for us,” Smart said of Bennett, who has 251 rushing yards and one touchdown. “His ability to run, scramble, make things open, make plays with his feet, have all been good. He made a couple poor decisions in the last game, but he is not the only one that did that. We will continue to evaluate it.”
But Daniels is considered the better passer. Down three scores in the second half to Alabama, it was thought the Bulldogs might turn to him.
There was a point late in the game that Daniels warmed up on the sideline during a TV timeout. But the Bulldogs and quarterbacks coach Todd Monken stuck with Bennett.
Another issue Smart addressed Wednesday was how the Bulldogs’ defensive staff is going to look during bowl prep and beyond. Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning was hired as the new head coach at Oregon on Saturday. Lanning agreed to stick with Georgia through the payoff. However, he remained in Eugene, Ore., as of Wednesday and it was not certain when he might return.
Smart appointed Will Muschamp as co-defensive coordinator along with linebackers coach Glenn Schumann, who already held that title. But whether the two will continue to share those responsibilities after this season remains unclear.
“Yeah, the clarification is both Muschamp and Schumann will be co-coordinators, that’s what the clarification is,” Smart said, without clarifying.
Then, Smart shifted into talking about Lanning.
“Lanning has done a tremendous job here,” Smart said. “He is, far and away, one of the most loyal guys, hard-working guys, that I’ve been around. He’s bright, he’s energetic, a good teacher. He’ll do wonderful things at Oregon, and I’m so happy that he got the opportunity for a job like that.”