Georgia coach Kirby Smart expected to start Stetson Bennett over healthy JT Daniels

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Georgia coach Kirby Smart is expected to start Stetson Bennett over JT Daniels at quarterback against Florida on Saturday.

Bennett has started the past three games with Daniels sidelined by a strained lat injury, and he will get a fourth-straight start barring a last-minute change-up, per sources..

The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (7-0, 5-0 SEC) are a 14-point favorite for Florida, (4-3, 2-3) in their 3:30 p.m game (TV: CBS).

Smart said this week that Daniels, whose quarterback rating last season was higher than any other returning player in the nation at his position, has looked good in practice.

“He’s looked good, he’s done a good job,” Smart said. “I wouldn’t say there’s been a lot of limitations. It doesn’t seem like there’s been a lot of limitations in terms of what he can and can’t do.”

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Daniels was taking snaps ahead of Bennett in one of the two drills observed at the open practice on Monday.

Smart said his decision on who starts would be based on practices.

“I’ll say it again, I’m ok with whoever the best guy to give us the best chance to win is,” Smart said, “and that’s based on practice and health, and it will be that way the rest of the year.”

The Gators are also working with two quarterbacks Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson.

It was Kyle Trask, however, who led Florida to a 44-28 win in last year’s Georgia-Florida game.

Bennett started the game for Georgia, staking UGA out to a 14-0 lead before suffering a sprained shoulder and giving way to former Bulldogs’ QB D’Wan Mathis.

Bennett attempted to return to the game after getting his shoulder injury evaluated, but he was ineffective and unable to rally the team.

“I thought the guy played pretty well last year,” Smart said after UGA’s most recent game, a 30-13 win over Kentucky. “We got beat by the national champion with him at quarterback, and we didn’t play real good on defense. He was playing pretty good against the team that won the SEC East and he took a shot and hurt his shoulder.

“I don’t know this is a new premonition that he’s all the sudden gotten better. I think he’s a very effective quarterback, very bright, can run with his legs, and  he understands what (OC Todd) Monken is trying to do.”

Daniels, a transfer from USC who had been out while recovering from knee surgery, has gone 7-0 in his starts since taking over for Bennett after the loss to Florida last season.

Daniels, who passed for more than 400 yards in his first start for Georgia last season, opened the 2021 season among the Heisman Trophy favorites.

Daniels, however, had a strained oblique muscle flare up after a 10-3 season-opening win over then-No. 3 Clemson.

The injury forced Daniels to miss the second game of the season against UAB.

Smart originally said redshirt freshman quarterback Carson Beck was Georgia’s No. 2 quarterback. But Smart changed things up before the game with the Blazers, starting Bennett in what proved to be a 56-7 rout.

Daniels returned to the starting lineup the next week against South Carolina and led Georgia on two touchdown drives to open the game.

Smart, however, rotated Bennett in on the third series, saying the former walk-on had earned his playing time. Bennett threw an interception on his first series, and Daniels returned to the game and led the Bulldogs to the 40-13 win.

Daniels started against Vanderbilt the next week and was 9-of-10 passing in the first quarter, exiting with UGA leading 35-0 entering the second quarter.

Bennett, again, struggled off the bench, throwing an interception in his first series. Georgia scored only 3 points in the second quarter against the Commodores.

Daniels strained lat flared up before the next game, however, and Bennett was back in the starting lineup for the Arkansas game. Bennett was an efficient 7-of-11 passing for 72 yards as Smart relied on the run game (56-273) in a 37-0 win.

Georgia turned more to the pass game the next week at Auburn. Bennett was 14-of-21 passing for 231 yards and two touchdowns in the 34-10 win over the Tigers.

Bennett led the Bulldogs to a 30-13 win over Kentucky in his last outing, 14-of-20 passing for 3 touchdowns with no interceptions.

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