Georgia QB JT Daniels cleared to play, but Kirby Smart won't commit to starter for Auburn game

Sam Cooper
·4 mins read

Georgia may have found a solution to its unsteady quarterback situation.

Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart said Monday that JT Daniels, the highly touted transfer from USC, has been cleared to play in Saturday’s game against No. 7 Auburn.

Daniels, the presumed favorite to start at QB following the departure of Jamie Newman, has been working to rehabilitate the knee injury that caused him to miss almost the entire 2019 season at USC.

Daniels was not cleared for No. 4 Georgia’s season-opening game at Arkansas over the weekend, opening the door for redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis to start. Mathis struggled and was pulled for Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on. Georgia trailed 7-5 at halftime, but Bennett was able to lead a second-half comeback in an eventual 37-10 win.

Bennett finished the afternoon 20-of-29 for 211 yards and two touchdowns. By comparison, Mathis was 8-of-17 for 55 yards and an interception.

Smart, during his Monday news conference, was not ready to name a starter for the Auburn game. All three are in the mix.

“JT will be cleared but I don’t know how much that changes the picture in terms of reps and development,” Smart said. “We’ll be looking at everybody across the board. JT’s got to be able to show us that he can function efficiently and do it with his knee. We thought he would be cleared by this time anyway but those guys will all compete.”

Smart said there were a few final tests Daniels needed to pass in order to be cleared for game action. But just because he has been cleared does not mean he will be immediately placed into the starting lineup.

“He’s still got to be able to go out there and prove to us that he can do it in a game-like situation and the practice-like situations. That is not easy to do during the week at times,” Smart said.

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - SEPTEMBER 26: Georgia Bulldogs quarterback D'Wan Mathis (2) drops back to pass during the football game between the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Georgia Bulldogs on September 26, 2020 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, AR. (Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Georgia quarterback D'Wan Mathis struggled in his first career start. (Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Could multiple QBs play vs. Auburn?

Daniels started at USC as a true freshman in 2018 and held that role again entering 2019. However, he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee in Week 1 and missed the season. His absence opened the door for Kedon Slovis to thrive in USC’s pass-happy offense.

Daniels eventually opted to transfer, landed at UGA in May and was later granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. When Newman, who transferred to UGA from Wake Forest, surprisingly decided to opt out of the season, Daniels was presumed to be next in line on the depth chart. However, when the knee wasn’t quite ready for full contact, Mathis was given the starting nod for Week 1.

Even though he pulled him for Bennett in the second quarter, Smart said Mathis did not play as poorly as it may have looked.

“D’Wan did a lot of good things,” Smart said. “It’s not his fault a play got called back for holding. It’s not his fault a guy missed a [blitz] pickup on third down, and he almost turned that into a first down. He did a lot of good things early on there, but we could never just put good things back-to-back. Every drive he had came to a stop for some reason or another.”

Smart said it is possible that more than one quarterback plays against Auburn and he is viewing the situation with a longer lens than specifically on this week’s game.

“It’s a lot more important how we play around him and how we support him because whoever’s able to do that the best and get the most of the people around them is probably going to be the guy that moves the ball and produces," Smart said. "At the end of the day, that’s what we want to do. If that’s one guy, if that’s two guys, we’re not putting ourselves in a pigeonhole, saying, ‘We can only have one quarterback.’ We’ve got to develop all of our quarterbacks.”

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