ATHENS, GA. (AP) – After waiting for nearly 15 months for this moment, JT Daniels took a knee and recorded the cheers of the socially aloof crowd.
There were only about 20,000 fans at Sanford Stadium, but it sounded more like the usual 92,000.
“JT! JT! JT!” They sang over and over.
Daniels made a decent debut among the hedges, throwing for 401 yards and four touchdowns while No. 13 Georgia on Saturday night for a 31-24 victory over Mississippi state.
The Mater Dei alumnus played at USC for the first time since the 2019 opener, becoming the third quarterback to start this season for the Bulldogs (5-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference).
It seems they have finally found their husband.
“That’s the first time I’ve taken snapshots in a completely different part of the country since August 31, 2019,” said Daniels. “It has not really dawned on me that I have to play football again.”
The USC transfer didn’t play alone – it delivered one big moment after another, capped by a 40-yard touchdown pass to Kearis Jackson who broke a 24-24 tie with 9:50 left.
Making it even more impressive, Jackson and George Pickens had dropped potential TD passes on back-to-back plays, and a holding penalty left Georgia third-and-20.
But Jackson slipped behind the secondary in the center of the field, and Daniels saw him eventually finish the undermanned Mississippi State (2-5, 2-5).
Daniels became the first Georgia quarterback to cross 400 yards since Aaron Murray against Auburn in 2013 – and the first to ever do it in his debut.
When asked if he could have predicted such a feat coming out with the Bulldogs, Daniels replied, ‘Absolutely. It is something that you visualize and dream about. ”
Freshman Jermaine Burton was Daniels’ favorite receiver, snatching eight passes for 197 yards – including TD catches of 18 and 48 yards, not to mention another 49-yard grab.
Burton had received just 130 yards in the first six games of the season as Georgia struggled to get his passing game going as Daniels watched from the bench.
Pickens also reeled in a 4-yard score pass, finishing with eight receptions for 87 yards.
Daniels’ teammates have seen his skills put into practice.
“That guy, the ball just comes out of his hand,” said Jamaree Salyer offensive tackle. “It makes my job a lot easier. I’m happy when the ball goes 50 yards and I only have to block once. ”
Daniels had to do it all through the air because the Georgia running game was totally suppressed, finishing with just 8 yards when three bags were factored into the numbers.
Mississippi State, which had lost four out of five games since a shocking upset from defending champion LSU in the season opener, spent most of the evening with Georgia behind freshman quarterback Will Rogers, making his second straight start.
Rogers spread the ball over 10 receivers in the “Air Raid” violation and completed 41 of 52 passes for 336 yards, including Jaden Walley bringing in a pass and turning the corner for a 51 yards touchdown. Dillon Johnson added two hasty TDs for the state of Mississippi.
“We knew we belonged here,” Walley said.
Daniels, one of the top high school students in the country in 2018, earned the Southern Cal runway as a freshman. But he tore a knee in the opener of his second season and missed the rest of the year.
With the Trojans planning to move in a different direction as a quarterback, Daniels moved to Georgia and was immediately entitled to the battle to replace three-year-old starter Jake Fromm.
The newcomer didn’t take a moment until the seventh game of the season, after both Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis got a rip in the track.
It will be difficult now to get Daniels off the field.
After enduring a series of dropouts and opt-outs, along with a breakout of positive COVID-19 tests, the state of Mississippi brought just 59 players on the trip to Athens.
“A really good try and I think this is the best game we’ve played this year,” said coach Mike Leach. “I was very proud of the way our boys played.”
Mississippi State: After leading a win over Vanderbilt, Rogers delivered another solid performance against Georgia. The freshman appears to have a stranglehold on the quarterback job after senior KJ Costello started the first five games.
“We have a bunch of young guys who are getting better, and they’re going to get better,” Leach said. “We played extremely hard and I think well for the most part.”
Georgia: Daniels’ stunning performance will definitely make Bulldog fans wonder why it took so long for Coach Kirby Smart to put him in a quarterback. Georgia has only a slim chance of returning to the SEC championship game, but it would have been different if Smart had made the call to Daniels earlier in the season.
Smart said he fully understands those who would question his decision to delay Daniels until the seventh game.
“Absolutely,” said the coach. “But decisions are made based on what gives us the best chance of winning. A lot has to do with JT’s mobility (from the knee injury) and Stetson’s play. If he struggled, we had to look elsewhere. JT took his chance. ”