No. 13 Georgia defeated Mississippi State 31-24 on Saturday evening in the first game inside Sanford Stadium since Oct. 10. Here are some observations from The Red & Black:
JT Daniels-led offense
There had been growing anticipation from Georgia fans for quarterback JT Daniels to make his season-debut following Stetson Bennett’s third-straight underwhelming performance against Florida. Daniels started on Saturday against Mississippi State, and Georgia’s offense hardly resembled that of its first six games of the season.
Aside from a near-interception on Georgia’s opening drive, Daniels continuously made strong decisions with the ball, leading to a career-best in passing yards with 401 and passing touchdowns with four.
The redshirt sophomore relied heavily on the deep ball throughout the evening, collecting 204 yards on just 13 pass completions during the first half. Daniels’ first throw since Aug. 31, 2019 went to wide receiver George Pickens for a 28-yard gain, and he continued to look for chunk plays as the evening progressed.
Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken didn’t utilize Daniels much in the opening quarter, and the Bulldogs failed to score. Monken’s play-calling philosophy changed in the second quarter, leading to Georgia scoring 17 points in the second quarter alone.
The Bulldogs’ offensive production continued from then leading to their first game scoring at least 30 points since Oct. 10 against Tennessee.
Defenses second half adjustments
Statistically speaking, Mississippi State wasn’t presumed to pose much of a threat for Georgia’s defense. Excluding Mississippi State’s 24-17 victory over Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs had averaged a bleak 7.5 points per game since defeating LSU to begin the season.
Add in Mississippi State’s depleted roster due to positive COVID-19 tests, subsequent contact tracing and multiple opt-outs, and it’s easy to assume Georgia’s defense would redeem itself after allowing 44 points to Florida on Nov. 7.
But in the early going on Saturday, Georgia opted to play conservatively on defense and rely on its secondary by bringing either three or four defenders to pressure Rogers. Mississippi State scored 17 points in the first half and added another touchdown on its opening drive in the third quarter.
Following its third quarter touchdown drive to tie the game at 24 apiece, Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers had completed 31 of 37 passes for 278 yards and one touchdown.
However, those were the last of Mississippi State’s points for the evening. Georgia’s defense forced a three-and-out on the next possession, and started dialing up more pressure for Mississippi State’s freshman play-caller to handle. Rogers finished 41 of 52 for 336 yards and a touchdown.
Georgia’s pass rush finished with only two sacks, both coming on third downs. Azeez Ojulari’s sack on Mississippi State’s final drive of the evening sealed Georgia’s 31-24 victory.
Burton’s breakout performance
Following the first quarter, wide receiver Jermaine Burton’s night didn’t seem to be venturing toward a career performance. He had only one reception for six yards on one target. But Burton’s second quarter left him with seven receptions for 149 yards and one touchdown — all were career highs.
Burton’s second quarter receptions were for 14, 49, 9, 46, 7 and 18 yards, illuminating his deep-threat and playmaking ability.
The freshman wide receiver entered Saturday with only 130 receiving yards on the season. There had been glimpses, like his four-reception, 58 yard and one touchdown performance against Alabama. But against Mississippi State, Burton dominated to finish with eight receptions for 197 yards and two touchdowns, continuously showcasing his connection with Daniels.