If ever there was an optimum time for a reset, 2020 was it. With COVID-19 raging, it was hard enough getting from day to day, let alone week to week. Besides, nobody was going to beat Alabama last season. Somebody might this time. That somebody might be Georgia.

By the Bulldogs’ recent standards, last season was a misfire – if a team that goes 8-2 and is ranked No. 7 in the final polls can be said to have missed much of anything. It took longer than expected to find Jake Fromm’s successor, so long that the SEC East essentially was lost by the time JT Daniels took a snap. He took the first snap of Saturday’s G-Day game. Barring injury, he’ll take the first snap against Clemson in Charlotte come Sept. 4.

ExploreGeorgia fans savor first G-Day in two years

The first G-Day since 2019 told us nothing we didn’t already know. Daniels, who couldn’t beat out D’Wan Mathis and Stetson Bennett at the start of last season, is Georgia’s quarterback now. He had a fine day between the hedges, completing 28 of 41 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns for the Red team. If you want to pick nits, feel free to mention that Bennett – yes, him again – led the Reds to a score before Daniels did. Nobody, however, should believe this position is again up for grabs. Daniels has seized it.

The heralded freshman Brock Vandagriff had a few nice throws Saturday, but his arrival date as No. 1 QB figures to be 2022. Then again, we thought Fromm was headed for something similar – a watching-and-learning frosh season – until Jacob Eason got hurt on the third series of the 2017 opener. If we’ve learned anything about college football, it’s that quarterbacks come and go in ways none of us can imagine.

Kirby Smart looks on as quarterback Brock Vandagriff completes a pass during the second half of the G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Athens.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
Kirby Smart looks on as quarterback Brock Vandagriff completes a pass during the second half of the G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

That said, you’d rather be a college team with a good incumbent quarterback than without one. The teams that made the 2020 College Football Playoff – Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame – will enter the new season minus Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Ian Book. Florida will be without Kyle Trask, Texas A&M without Kellen Mond. That’s not to say that these programs can’t and won’t find worthy replacements. It is to say that Georgia is one of the few big-name teams that doesn’t need a replacement.

Which isn’t to say the Bulldogs are without depth. Vandagriff should start before he’s through. Bennett has started in the past. Carson Beck, a redshirt freshman, could wind up being Daniels’ 2021 understudy. Said coach Kirby Smart of his quarterbacks: “Top to bottom, I feel really good about them. I don’t know that we’ve ever had four like this. They’re bright, intelligent guys who challenge themselves. All four guys have that.”

Being his pragmatic self, Smart also noted that quarterbacks tend to look pretty good in spring games. For one thing, they can’t be knocked around by defenders. For another, these glorified scrimmages aren’t where anyone looks to establish the run – because the team you’re running against is yourself. Beck threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns.

Smart again: “Every G-Day you come out of, you feel good about the receivers because you throw the ball so much. … G-Day is built around a lot of two-minute drills. We want to throw and catch the ball.”

Said Daniels, who threw well long and short: “I love throwing the ball deep, but I think check-downs (to running backs) are most underrated part of an offense. If I have to check it down 10 times in a row, I’ll do it 10 times in a row.”

This teed up Smart to say of Daniels: “He’s in command of the offense. He’s got to be able to utilize the pocket, be able to move around and step up. He has command of it. He understands. The key is his decision-making process, and he manages every bit of it … The decision-making is everything at that position.”

Georgia wide receiver Kearis Jackson gets five from quarterback JT Daniels in the endzone after they connected for a touchdown reception during the third quarter of the G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Athens. The Red Team beat the Black Team 28-23.     “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
Georgia wide receiver Kearis Jackson gets five from quarterback JT Daniels in the endzone after they connected for a touchdown reception during the third quarter of the G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Athens. The Red Team beat the Black Team 28-23. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The only reversal Georgia suffered this spring was the torn ACL sustained by No. 1 receiver George Pickens, who almost certainly has played his final game as a Bulldog. Still, Adonai Mitchell, an early enrollee freshman, caught a touchdown pass from Daniels and managed 105 receiving yards. Demetris Robertson, about to enter his sixth collegiate season, reminded us why his transfer from Cal once was seen as a big deal. Massive tight end Darnell Washington – he’s listed as 6-foot-7, 285 pounds – got loose down the sideline to set up the game’s first score and later caught a touchdown pass.

Said Smart, a career defensive man: “This game is about skill people on the perimeter. It’s hard to stop them.”

So long as Smart is coaching the team, the Bulldogs always will have a rock-ribbed defense. What has waxed and waned over his five seasons is the offense. In Daniels, he has a quarterback to throw deep in a way no Bulldog has since Matthew Stafford, and this receiving group, even without Pickens, should be able to get open. A spring game in no way offers a full measure of a team’s strength, but Georgia fans should feel mightily encouraged. Here’s your 2021 SEC East champ.

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