After entering Saturday as 25-point favorites to an unranked and depleted Mississippi State, Georgia narrowly won 31-24 to improve to 5-2 overall. It wasn’t Stetson Bennett or D’Wan Mathis who saved Georgia from an unexplainable upset. It was redshirt sophomore JT Daniels, who threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns in his first start while wearing a Bulldog uniform.
Daniels played so well that head coach Kirby Smart announced he’d start against South Carolina during last Saturday’s postgame press conference. He was also named Week 9’s SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week.
All seems well in Athens. No quarterback controversy to worry about for Saturday, right?
Not so much. South Carolina’s quarterback competition between graduate transfer Collin Hill and freshman Luke Doty serves as Georgia’s near-weekly indulgence with signal-caller concerns. It could prove to be a potent challenge for Georgia’s defense, which isn’t exactly trending in the right direction after allowing 28 points per game since facing Alabama on Oct. 17.
“Some quarterbacks have better attributes than other quarterbacks and you really just don't know what to expect,” said junior linebacker Channing Tindall when asked about the difficulties in preparing for an unnamed starting quarterback. “You really just don’t know what you’re going to get. A quarterback can really change your whole game plan in my opinion.”
It might be too far fetched to insist that Hill and Doty present one of the toughest challenges this season for the Bulldogs. South Carolina ranks near the bottom of the SEC in passing offense at 12th. But Doty was inserted behind center after a scoreless first half left the Gamecocks in a 17-point deficit against Missouri. The Gamecocks nearly completed the comeback before ultimately losing 17-10.
Doty completed 14 of his 23 passes for 130 yards in addition to 59 rushing yards on 11 attempts. All of this came in just 30 minutes of play.
“It’s pretty obvious [that] young kid Luke is a great athlete,” Smart said during Monday’s virtual press conference. “He extends plays. He provided a spark for them in the run game. … When they lost [receiver] Shai Smith, it made it tough because he was one of the best weapons in that game. So it was tough sledding to run the ball and I thought Luke brought some more energy.”
If not for an interception on South Carolina’s final drive, perhaps Doty would already hold the starting position for Saturday. His performance had to come as a surprise to South Carolina interim head coach Mike Bobo. Doty played sparingly in five previous games for the Gamecocks in which he attempted one total pass.
Hill has started all eight games for the 2-6 Gamecocks, completing 59.1% of his passes for 1,411 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions. And unlike Doty, Hill’s style is closer to the traditional pocket passer, as his -66 rushing yards for this season should already show.
Working in Hill’s favor, however, is his continuity with Bobo, since he was at Colorado State for the previous four years before transferring to South Carolina when Bobo was offered the offensive coordinator position.
“Collin obviously knows everything Mike wants to do,” Smart said. “He knows his checks and understands the system. ... He's got a really good arm and is very accurate. So [Hill and Doty] are very different quarterbacks and they complement each other.”
It’s tough to tell how Bobo will choose South Carolina’s quarterback this week. Trusting a freshman quarterback to make his first career start against a Smart-led defense probably isn’t the most appealing decision.
Yet Hill’s recent play shouldn’t inhibit much more confidence. Through South Carolina’s first four games this season, he completed 62.2% of his passes for 210.5 yards per game and eight total touchdowns. Over South Carolina's previous four games, Hill completed 53% of his passes for 142.3 yards per game with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
But Bobo knows, and he hinted as much during Sunday’s teleconference. He just isn’t ready to share.
“We’ve got a plan,” Bobo said.