For the first time in a long time, Georgia won a football game because of its quarterback. JT Daniels had a terrific game in his first live action in 15 months despite a lackluster running game and some missed opportunities from the receivers. Yes, Daniels made plays by himself in many situations as the game progressed, but someone had to have enough confidence in him to put him in that position. So how was it that offensive coordinator Todd Monken helped engineer the biggest passing day from a Georgia quarterback Saturday night since Aaron Murray?
As expected, Monken attempted to settle Daniels into the game at his own pace. It was clear he was a little uncomfortable in the pocket during the first few possessions, which could be expected thatnks to the amount of time the team had off off coupled with an ACL surgery in between his last two starts. With all that in mind, Monken mixed in a lot of fast-developing plays in the first few minutes to let Daniels gather a rhythm without making a mistake.
On the first few drives, Georgia ran a variety of runs, boundary screens and quick pass patterns. Even when it was evident the ground game would be a non-factor, that didn’t stop Monken from finding creative ways to scheme the ball into the playmakers’ hands.
Georgia often lined up early in sets that matched what Daniels is able to do more than anyone on the offense.
He ran the pistol formation well at USC, so they ran the pistol. He had trouble operating from under center at USC, so they kept him out from under center. He had been known to hold onto the ball too long on deep dropbacks, so they reverted to an exclusive dose of three-step drop patterns on the first few series.
Having to face this challenge without a running game cannot be understated. During meetings this week, it's unlikely the offensive staff expected a scenario where the team would run for eight net yards (33 by their running backs on 18 carries), yet the offense would remain successful. Instead of letting the running backs work in space and then allowing Daniels to work off play-action, Monken and his team had to figure out how to protect the quarterback while simultaneously asking him to make plays. Not easy.
Early in the game, that is how moving the ball on offense looked: Not easy. Mississippi State scored a touchdown to takes a 17-10 lead midway through the second quarter, but it was already too late. Although behind in the game, Monken had given Daniels enough reps and time on the field to finally unleash him.
Instead of coddling Daniels and making himself the hero with diverse play calls, Monken made the smart and responsible move. As soon as he saw Daniels string together completions, move in the pocket and command the huddle, there was no hesitation in turning the offense over to him.
That set the stage for the "Daniels Experience." He marched the offense up and down the field like a well-oiled machine for the rest of the game. He made the correct throws, didn’t turn the ball over and had four or five explosive plays swing the tide of the game.
Daniels was the one filling up the highlight reel and receiving the game ball, which was well-deserved and appropriate because there is no way Georgia wins the game without No. 18 on the field. But behind it all was a man from Illinois with a play sheet and a love for the offense.