ATHENS – JT Daniels proved he was everything he was hyped to be on Saturday night and it was time to save Georgia from what would have been an embarrassing loss.
Daniels was 28 of 38 and passed 401 yards and 4 touchdowns without wickets in one night UGA could not run the ball and fought to stop Mike Leach’s offense in the 31-24 victory over Mississippi State.
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No one could have imagined that Daniels would send Georgia’s first 400-yard passer performance since SEC all-time passer Aaron Murray in 201
No one except Daniels, that is.
“Absolutely,” Daniels said, asking if he could have imagined such a debut. “It’s something you visualize and dream about, putting good numbers.”
Daniels, for UGA fans who have not been aware of the build-up, is a quarterback who controls all the boxes.
Talent leads a list for Gatorade High School Player of the Year 2017 that includes confidence, arm strength, balance, football IQ and mental toughness.
Oh, and patience – a lot of patience.
Daniels spoke for the first time since arriving at UGA in May after his performance Saturday night. He confirmed he was cleared to return from the torn ACL and meniscus he suffered on August 31, 2019 after the Arkansas game.
But, Daniels added, “it must definitely be said that I have developed a good amount since then and we still continue to get full strength and full health there.”
The right knee was tested on the opening series as he suffered the first of three sacks after being nearly plucked off. The rust from not playing was clear.
“I would say after that drive that all sorts of things worked out, they played very similar to what we saw on film in terms of the look we’ve seen,” Daniels said. “We had a good game plan, I had my bad games, it was time to move on.”
Daniels was more interested in talking about the talent that surrounds him and his intention to continue delivering strikes in the field.
Freshman receiver Jermaine Burton went for a season-high 197 yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 receptions.
Despite often paying extra attention, Sophomore George Pickens had 8 catches for 87 yards and his first touchdown since the second game of the season.
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“If you have George Pickens and Jermaine Burton, if you do not want to throw it up to them, do not recruit them,” Daniels said of the elite talent.
“George made me look good, Jermaine made me look good, Kearis (Jackson) made me look really good when I subjected a deep ball down the middle and he plays a good game.
“If you’re giving one-on-one (coverage) with George, Kearis and Jermaine and all our guys, I’ll probably try to get you to show me you can stop it.”
It’s not just the mindset, it’s the Kirby Smart game plan: Take what the defense provides.
With his army talent, Daniels has the ability to do just that to really apply the “do every throw” cliché.
But he can also change plays on the line for scrimmage, and in game one he had no problem taking on this responsibility.
“We love to put good numbers, and if the situation turns out, I throw George the ball, I throw Kearis the ball, D-Rob, everyone, I throw them the ball every time,” Daniels said.
“But if you get a team that plays soft (coverage), I have no problem giving Zamir (White) and (James) Kog the ball, and Kenny (McIntosh) and Kendall (Milton) and all the guys, the ball each only Games. “
It was up to the Mississippi State to pick its poison, Daniels explained.
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“On film, we’ve been such a good running team and I think we had to prove ourselves a little bit in the pass game,” Daniels said. “They played a little more Cover Zero without security, they played a little more man. I think it was their weight trying to stop Zeus and Cook from taking it up on them.
“No, I did not think we should go out and throw the ball so much, but it is football. You play the game, see what their game plan is and what they are trying to stop, and then you counteract it. ”
That’s it, the universal truth of football, from the west coast to the south – which Daniel, by the way, revealed that he absolutely loves when asked why he chose to transfer to Georgia.
“I think Coach Smart is about winning, no matter what, it’s something I really respect, ”said Daniels. “I think he does so much for the team himself. He’s completely selfless, he’s here to help us win games and reach our goals, so that’s one thing.
“Two, I absolutely love the state of Georgia. I had been to the South once for the Manning Passing Academy, and I fell in love with it when I was down in Louisiana.
“Then Coach Monken’s offense trained, just with him through Zoom, when I was in the transfer portal, I knew he was a guy I really wanted to play for.”
Daniels ‘passion and joy for the game was evident as he fearlessly attacked the Maroon Bulldogs’ defense with one deep throw after another.
It fell exactly as Daniels told Smart it would when he went to his office the day after the Florida game to make his case play.
“He was very confident that he was sure of his knee, that he was ready to go, that he could take the plunge and make the decision and do all the things that were not done in terms of accuracy,” he said. “He has extreme confidence in himself, which is what you want in that position.”
Daniels seems to be checking all the boxes.
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