It’s hard to believe that nearly three years ago the Georgia Bulldogs were mere seconds away from their third ever national championship.
Down 23-20 after a Georgia overtime field goal, Alabama needed at least a field goal themselves to tie the game. Tua Tagovailoa turned the 2nd & 26 yards to go into Alabama’s 26th point of the game with a beautiful touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith. This crushing 26-23 defeat didn’t just sting for Georgia, it completely altered the path of head coach Kirby Smart’s program.
For the better part of the three years since, Georgia hasn’t played up to the predicted caliber. Quarterback play lacking explosiveness was the central piece of this letdown. After Jake Fromm’s spectacular freshman season which put Georgia in the aforementioned title game, his play plateaued.
Fromm only threw for 300+ yards one time in his final two seasons at Georgia. That performance was 301 yards against Alabama in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship Game. In the other 28 games in those final two years, Fromm failed to reach 200 yards in 15 of them. It’s been easier to stop the Georgia Bulldog offense because it’s been one dimensional.
That is until JT Daniels took command.
In Daniels’ first start he managed to surpass 400 yards through the air. The importance of that is he did it with no ground game, as Zamir White led the Bulldogs with only 21 rushing yards. Granted it was against a subpar Mississippi State defense, but a brilliant first start nonetheless.
In the three games following his first start Daniels was highly efficient. His most notable performance was in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against the #8 Cincinnati Bearcats. Daniels went 26-38 for 392 yards for one touchdown and one interception. This game was a true testament to the evolution of the Georgia offense under Daniels.
Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman forced Daniels to beat them by completely shutting down the run. The Bearcats came into the game averaging only 4.32 yards per play on defense, which was tops in the country. To go out against a defense which is top 10 in nearly every category and throw for almost 400 yards is incredible.
So…what comes next?
If all goes according to plan in Athens, then watch out. Daniels will be lining up in the backfield with emerging talents. Running backs Zamir White, James Cook and Kendall Milton were all top ten running backs in their respective recruiting classes. All three are elite players as seen from what they’ve done on the field, and they should all be back next year.
On the outside there is plenty of weapons for Daniels to throw to. The headliner is George Pickens, who could very well be the first wide receiver off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft. Other underclassmen like Kearis Jackson, Jermaine Burton and even freshman tight end Darnell Washington have star potential.
With all that star power there’s still an x-factor that could ultimately bust the coverage wide open. That player is wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint. Rosemy-Jacksaint suffered a horrific leg injury early on against the Florida Gators, which brought his freshman campaign to a close. If he comes back healthy next year, he’s going to be a player who really helps elevate the passing game.
Rosemy-Jacksaint is 6’2” and that’s important because the other wideouts mentioned above lack size. Burton and Jackson are only six feet tall, which really doesn’t make them matchup problems on the outside. With Pickens and Rosemy-Jacksaint at full strength, Daniels can dish back shoulder fades all day. This passing concept was a cornerstone in the Aaron Murray led Bulldog offenses from 2010 to 2013.
On top of all that, the SEC could be wide open.
If there ever was a time for the Georgia Bulldogs to make a push for another title, it’s next season. Many of the usual competitors will be going through complete roster revisions. Here’s a few:
Alabama will lose a ton of talent with Najee Harris, Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith all gone after this year. Yes, the Crimson Tide will reload, but replacing three Heisman finalists doesn’t happen over night. Bryce Young should take over under center but that will be behind a retooled offensive line.
Florida will be moving towards the Emory Jones era, while at the same time trying to remove the 55-20 trouncing in the Cotton Bowl from their heads. The offense will look totally different with not only the Kyle Trask departure, but with Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney and Kyle Pitts leaving as well.
Dan Mullen could look to utilize Jones’ running ability and go to a more read option style offense, similar to what he ran with Dak Prescott at Mississippi State.
Texas A&M is following suit of the other two programs in replacing a quarterback. Kellen Mond will presumably be leaving College Station unless he applies for an extra year of eligibility under the COVID-19 guidelines.
Regardless, since A&M won against Florida, the Aggies’ defense has played great while the offense has sputtered a bit. They did finish their season on a high note by taking out North Carolina in the Capital One Orange Bowl, 41-27.
Taking all of that into consideration, Daniels doesn’t even have to be elite for Georgia to get back to the College Football Playoff. Kirby Smart always builds a top defense in the country. That rang true this year, as the Bulldogs were #1 against the run nationally.
Georgia just needs a quarterback who can take care of the ball and distribute it to the four and five star studs. Daniels being a five star prospect himself and ultra talented only elevates this offense. The playbook is more open than it has been for anyone since the previously mentioned Murray.
Georgia letting current Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields leave Athens is a discussion that may never disappear. If JT Daniels can come in and deliver a title for the Georgia faithful, that discussion may be shelved forever. It’s up to the coaches and coordinators to allow Daniels full control of this offense if they want to return to prominence.