Nov. 21, 2020 may be long remembered as a date of historical significance in the annals of Georgia football. For that was the day that the Georgia offense was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the new millennium.
On a national scale, Georgia’s 31-24 win over a determined Mississippi State team created nary a ripple. But among Bulldog Nation, it was readily apparent that a new day had dawned.
Quarterback JT Daniels made his long-awaited debut a classic. Daniels completed 28 of 38 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns.
It was actually six touchdowns, with the two that didn’t count etching Daniels’ name into Georgia lore. On Georgia’s final touchdown drive, Daniels threw three touchdown passes, all from behind a line of scrimmage 40 yards from State’s goal line.
The first hit Kearis Jackson, sliding in the end zone, between the two numbers on his jersey. The second, a rope down the middle, wasn’t retained by George Pickens.
No problem. Daniels wound up again and fired another laser to a sprawling Jackson, who this time hung on.
Now, how often have you seen a sequence like that?
“It was really just ‘next play,’” Daniels told DawgNation. “It’s not something you think about. I really try to focus on staying natural, you know, not getting too down on ourselves, not too up, not being overly positive for no reason. My thoughts were purely coverage, the play, best look, best probability. And I threw it to Kearis.
That line of reasoning led Daniels to spread the ball around to all of his receivers. Pickens, returning from hiatus, had eight receptions. Jackson had four. True freshman Jermaine Burton had his coming out party, with eight catches for 197 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“If you’re not going to throw it up to them, don’t recruit them,” Daniels told UGASports.com. “George makes me look good, Jermaine makes me look good, and Kearis makes me look really good when I underthrow the ball down the middle and he makes a big play.
“If you’re going to show me one-on-one with George, Jermaine, and Kearis, I’m probably going to want you to show me you can stop it.”
Whoa, what’s this? A Georgia quarterback with swagger?
And keep in mind that Daniels put up these numbers against a Mississippi State defense determined to take away Georgia’s running game, and make Georgia beat them through the air.
The inspired performance of his out-manned team impressed State coach Mike Leach. “I think this is the best game we’ve played this year -- by a significant margin,” Leach said in his postgame remarks. “Wish we didn’t come up short, but I’m really proud of them.
“It’s hard for teams, generally speaking, to stay on the field with Georgia. But we played extremely hard, and well, for the most part.”
State played so well that Georgia was held to 8 yards rushing, total. Breaking out Daniels’ three sacks, Georgia’s rushing totals remained paltry. By the third quarter, as Georgia doggedly continued to try to run the ball, the faithful were wondering what innovative play might be called this time on second-and-10.
The total lack of a rushing game made Daniels’ performance even more amazing. And it led many to wonder why it took Daniels so long to crack the lineup. It was his father who provided the answer.
“I was out here in August, and saw JT in a scrimmage,” Steve Daniels told DawgNation. “And you could tell he wasn’t 100 percent.” Daniels was referring to an Aug. 29 closed scrimmage that parents were allowed to attend.
“You could see it in JT’s throws,” Steve continued. “He wasn’t able to get the same velocity on some of his passes, and that’s one of the things that separates him, is his accuracy.”
So what did JT do to get that surgically repaired knee ready for football? Coach Kirby Smart explained that during his post-game press conference. “What JT did, he said, ‘Coach, I want to come down to the scouts and I want to throw, and I want to be part of the game plan.’
“And he came down in front of me and went every day against what I think is a pretty good defense, and he made plays and moved around the pocket, and he started showing us that ‘I can do this thing.’
“He took the bull by the horns and he took advantage of tonight. Mississippi State played the run, too, and took a lot of chances, and he took advantage of that.”
How did JT’s parents feel about his lack of playing time? “As parents, Ali and I feel blessed to be at a place like Georgia with a coach like Kirby who put our son’s health first and foremost,” Steve told DawgNation. “Kirby didn’t rush him or put him out there too soon, and that’s why you come to a place like this, for this kind of support.
“Look at the support Kirby and the staff gave D’Wan Mathis the year before. We’re ecstatic to be part of the Georgia family, and to see where this can go. We have the talent and the right system to do great things, so let’s go!”
A new day has dawned for Georgia football.