The damned thing about last Saturday is, despite the defense looking like hot garbage for the better part of two quarters and the offense disappearing under the weight of the ineptitude of the passing game, I looked up in the fourth quarter and noticed Georgia was still in the game.
How was that even possible, I wondered? Almost as if they were reading my mind, the offense stepped up to assure me it wasn’t.
Now, sure, some of that can be laid at the feet of injuries. It did feel like the Dawgs were running out of bodies at the wide receiver position. But some — hell, most — has to be chalked up to erratic quarterback play that reared its ugly head after the second scoring drive. There were big plays to hit in the passing game, but Bennett and Mathis simply weren’t the guys who could hit them.
It’s a game that Georgia lost because of the disparity at the quarterback position. I would go on to say it wasn’t just what the poor play did for offensive production, either. Georgia’s defense and special teams looked tight as it became clear that the offense couldn’t keep up with the Gators’.
Naturally, that’s led to a fair amount of reflection, most of it unfair in my opinion, about how Kirby Smart has mismanaged the quarterback position. I’m not gonna rehash the Justin Fields situation, because there’s no way Smart was going to bench Fromm in favor of Fields during or after the 2018 season.
Instead, let’s look at the key part of the timeline after the end of last season.
Jan. 8, 2019: After leading Georgia to a 28-14 win the Sugar Bowl over Baylor, Fromm announces he is declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft. This left Georgia with a pretty gaping hole at the position.
Jan. 11, 2020: Georgia does not wait long to find the apparent replacement for Fromm in graduate transfer Jamie Newman. At Wake Forest, Newman had thrown for 26 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions, while also adding six rushing touchdowns. His dual-threat capabilities excited many, leading them to bump up the outlook on Georgia going into the 2020 season.
Jan. 17, 2020: Not even a week after Newman’s arrival, Georgia goes out and brings in a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach into the program as it hires Todd Monken. He had previously served as the head coach at Southern Miss, while also working as an offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Monken ended up replacing Coley as both the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
I would argue Fromm made a mistake leaving, but Smart didn’t make any mistakes there. He went out and got a sought after graduate transfer to replace Fromm and brought in an offensive coordinator with a successful track record to upgrade the staff. He also did this:
May 28, 2020: Before Georgia even steps on a practice field, it adds another quarterback to the mix in JT Daniels. He announces that he is transferring to Georgia from USC.
Again, there’s not a single false step in there. What happened, instead, was a series of events beyond Smart’s control: the pandemic forced the cancellation of spring practice (something I failed to give more credence to as a factor in getting the offense up to speed) and Newman’s last minute decision to opt out.
That leaves Daniels and the question on the minds of a major chunk of the fan base: why hasn’t he played, given the shortcomings of Bennett and Mathis we’ve witnessed?
This clip is twice as long as it needs to be, but it’s worth watching.
It’s not that Smart’s too stubborn to play Daniels; it’s that Daniels hasn’t been ready to play. Kirby sees the same things we’re seeing and he’s a helluva lot more motivated to get the right guy out there than we are.
As for Daniels’ readiness, it’s not like it’s something we have to infer, either. McKitty commented about that. And here’s Eric Stokes:
“He’s starting to believe in his knee, of course,” Stokes said. “That was a big thing going on. So he’s just starting to get confidence in his knee and all that stuff. I’ve seen his progress picking out coverages and knowledge and things like that. You can see that’s coming along.”
It’s somewhat absurd to point to Daniels, who hasn’t played in a live game in more than a year, as some sort of program savior. Fortunately, that’s not what Georgia needs right now. All Smart has to be looking for is someone who can hit the open receiver more often.
The good news is that the remaining schedule (assuming it gets played, of course) gives the staff the opportunity to do some serious evaluation of what it has as it looks forward. Baby steps, to be sure, but you have to start somewhere.