Scouting Georgia: Daniels gives talented Georgia offense new confidence

Scouting Georgia: Daniels gives talented Georgia offense new confidence

The last time Missouri prepared to face Georgia, the Bulldogs’ season-long starting quarterback Stetson Bennett had just been benched in favor of redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis.

Fast-forward three weeks to tomorrow, and Georgia has picked a starter. It’s neither.

Bennett, a junior walk-on, did his best but had to deal with height and arm strength limitations. He is now the backup, and Mathis left the program. JT Daniels, a former five-star recruit who transferred from USC, is now in Athens, and he has elevated the Bulldogs’ offense.

Aside from the upgrade at quarterback, Georgia might get some key pieces on defense back and all of a sudden, this is an SEC powerhouse again both this weekend and for the future. The Maneater spoke to The Red and Black football beat writer Gillian McIntyre for an inside look at the Bulldogs.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity purposes.

The Maneater: JT Daniels has come in and brought some life to the Georgia offense. What’s been the difference with him in the game?

Gillian McIntyre, football beat writer for The Red and Black: Everything. I think Kearis Jackson, one of the wide receivers, said it best himself when he said, “We’re still not there yet, and there’s room for improvement,” but I think we’ve seen flashes of greatness from JT Daniels and what he’s been able to do for the offense. I think what’s been most important is that he’s been able to take command and really build confidence. He’s been able to connect much better with the receivers than Bennett has, so he’s allowed some new guys to step up. The receivers actually seem to be running routes harder with Daniels under center. His debut… was just a total 180 from what we’ve seen from Bennett. But given all that, this will be his first start against a team with a winning record. So, this will be a chance for him to get better, and maybe we will see those flashes of greatness again.

TM: Tell me about Georgia’s skill position players, because there are a lot of good ones.

GM: So, the rushing effort was kind of lackluster this whole season. [Before the South Carolina game], the offensive line watched a video of themselves and they were just like “No. We don’t wanna look like that.” The ground attack really progressed down the field efficiently against South Carolina. They have James Cook, who was very explosive. I think he had a 44-yard run in the first quarter, which was followed by a 5-yard touchdown on the same drive. He’s been great. Four of the six Georgia touchdowns of that night were on the ground. Cook finished with 104 yards and two touchdowns, Zamir White had 84 yards and two touchdowns and Kenny McIntosh had 79 yards. Then they’ve also been able to introduce some new guys like Daijun Edwards. … With JT Daniels, some receivers have also been stepping up. Freshman Jermaine Burton was a leader in that game; he had three catches. … Kearis Jackson has been a strong component of that offense since the beginning of the season, and with George Pickens, that’s been huge. He was really big in the Mississippi State game and the South Carolina game.

TM: When we last spoke, Georgia was badly beat up on defense, with Richard LeCounte out, among others. Have they gotten healthy since then?

GM: Yesterday, in the press conference, [coach] Kirby [Smart] said that two defensive players are trending in the right direction in terms of making it back on the field before the season is over. They’re missing defensive lineman Jordan Davis and safety Richard LeCounte, like you said. Davis has participated more every week since that elbow injury against Kentucky, and LeCounte has been seeing progress after that motorcycle accident. Kirby said they’re hopeful on them, and they’ve been able to do some things in practice, so we’ll see about that.

TM: If he’s back, what does LeCounte bring to this defense?

GM: Watching the secondary, I think it’s been really missing its leader. He brings his talent, first and foremost, his aggressiveness but beyond anything, his leadership. When he’s in there, they rally behind him, and he really guides the way for them. If he comes back, I think a whole new energy will be in there for that secondary.

TM: You mentioned Jordan Davis, a preseason first-team All-SEC player who has had injury problems. Can you talk about some of the guys who’ve stepped up, like Azeez Ojulari and others on the defensive line?

GM: The unit has slowly begun to perform better, in my opinion, despite a smaller crop of players to choose from. They held South Carolina to 52 rushing yards in the first half. Despite that, they still appear vulnerable [to the run]; they’re coming up with big stops from Ojulari and others. They’re missing tackles here and there, but they started to step up in the second half of the South Carolina game. One of those sparks was set off by Ojulari: He had a sack right before the half, so that sort of set the trend for the remainder of the game. They’re still providing that havoc, but the secondary has to play clean behind the. It was a sloppy performance in some areas … Kirby said it himself; it was maybe the worst game from a tackling standpoint. There are leaders stepping up in the front seven without Jordan Davis, but the fundamentals are going to be important against Missouri.

TM: If Daniels is the quarterback, and they’re completely healthy, would Georgia have a shot at Florida or even Alabama?

GM: Definitely. They’d like to see those two games again, that’s for sure. I guess we’ll never know, but [Daniels has] brought such a new energy and such a different kind of explosive offense that Georgia was looking for. Heading into the Florida and Alabama games, it was, “Okay, we have something that will be satisfactory, but we’re not excited about it.” I think now, they’ve turned this corner. That may be a little too late, yes, because they haven’t controlled their destiny for a while. But I think if they did have JT Daniels against Alabama and Florida, it could have been different.

TM: Final score prediction?

GM: Despite that a large portion of what they thought their team was going to do over the summer is not going to happen, the season is not over, and they know that. Like I told you last time, they’re playing for the seniors, they’re playing for their legacy and they’re playing for the future. For example, the Georgia senior class this year could become the winningest class in Georgia football history, but they would need to win out over Missouri, Vanderbilt and a bowl game. So they can find significance in every game, I guess is what I’m trying to say. I think I’ll go 34-24, Georgia.

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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