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AP photo by Brynn Anderson / Georgia quarterback JT Daniels looks for a play call from the sideline during the first half of Saturday night's home game against Mississippi State. Daniels passed for 401 yards and four touchdowns in his first game for Georgia after transferring from Southern California.

ATHENS, Ga. — After waiting almost 15 months for this moment, JT Daniels took a knee and soaked up the cheers from the socially distanced crowd.

There were only about 20,000 fans at Sanford Stadium, but it sounded more like the usual 92,000 present at University of Georgia football games.

"JT! JT! JT!" they chanted over and over again.

Making quite a debut between the hedges, Daniels passed for 401 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night as No. 13 Georgia held on for a 31-24 victory over Mississippi State in a matchup of the Southeastern Conference's Bulldogs.

Playing for the first time since the 2019 opener when he was at Southern California, Daniels became the third quarterback to start for Georgia (5-2) this season.

It looks like the red-and-black Bulldogs finally found their guy.

"That's the first time I've taken snaps (in a game) since August 31, 2019, in a whole other part of the country," Daniels said. "It still hasn't really sunk in yet that I got to play football again."

The transfer from the Trojans didn't just play — he delivered one big moment after another, capped by a 40-yard touchdown pass to Kearis Jackson that broke a 24-all tie with 9:50 remaining.

What made it more impressive: Jackson and George Pickens had dropped potential touchdown passes on back-to-back plays, and a holding penalty left Georgia facing third-and-20.

Jackson slipped behind the secondary in the middle of the field, though, and Daniels spotted him to finally finish off undermanned Mississippi State (2-5).

Daniels became the first Georgia quarterback to pass for more than 400 yards since Aaron Murray against Auburn in 2013 — and the first ever to do it in his debut. Asked if he could've predicted such a performance in his first game at Georgia, Daniels replied: "Absolutely. It's something you visualize and dream about."

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AP photo by Brynn Anderson / Georgia linebacker Azeez Ojulari (13) celebrates with teammates after a sack during the second half of Saturday night's 31-24 home win against Mississippi State.

Freshman Jermaine Burton was Daniels' favorite receiver, hauling in eight passes for 197 yards, including touchdown catches of 18 and 48 yards and a grab of 49 that didn't take him to the end zone. Burton had just 130 receiving yards through the first six games of the season as Georgia struggled to get its passing game going while Daniels watched from the bench. Pickens also hauled in a 4-yard touchdown pass and finished with eight catches for 87 yards.

Daniels' teammates have seen his skills in practice.

"That guy, the ball just pops from his hand," offensive tackle Jamaree Salyer said. "It makes my job a lot easier. I'm happy when the ball's going 50 yards and I only have to block one time."

Daniels had to do it all through the air because Georgia's running game was totally stifled, finishing with just 8 yards when three sacks were factored into the numbers.

Mississippi State, which had lost four of five games since a shocking upset of reigning national champion LSU in the season opener and coach Mike Leach's first contest in charge of the maroon-and-white Bulldogs, went toe to toe with Georgia most of the night behind freshman quarterback Will Rogers, who was making his second straight start.

Spreading the ball around to 10 receivers in Leach's "Air Raid" offense, Rogers was 41-of-52 for 336 yards. Jaden Walley hauled in a pass and turned the corner for a 51-yard touchdown, and Dillon Johnson added two rushing scores for Mississippi State.

After enduring a string of defections and opt-outs along with an outbreak of positive COVID-19 tests, Mississippi State brought only 59 players to Athens.

"A really good effort, and I think that this is the best game we played this year," Leach said. "I was very proud of the way our guys played."

Said Walley: "We knew we belonged here."

After leading a victory over Vanderbilt, Rogers turned in another solid performance and seems to have a stranglehold on the quarterback job after senior K.J. Costello started the first five games.

"We've got a bunch of young guys who are getting better, and they're going to continue to get better," Leach said. "We played extremely hard and I think well, for the most part."

Daniels, one of the nation's top high school prospects in 2018, earned Southern Cal's starting job as a freshman, but his sophomore season ended quickly when he seriously injured his knee in the opener against Fresno State.

With the Trojans planning to go in a different direction at quarterback, Daniels transferred to Georgia and was granted immediate eligibility in the battle to replace three-year starter Jake Fromm. The newcomer didn't take a snap until the seventh game of the season, after both Stetson Bennett and D'Wan Mathis got a crack at the job.

It will be hard to get Daniels off the field now.

His stunning performance will surely leave fans wondering why it took so long for coach Kirby Smart to put him in. Georgia has only a slim chance of getting back to the SEC championship game after losing control of the East Division race with its loss to Florida, but it might have been different if Smart had made the call to Daniels sooner in the season.

Smart said he totally understands those who would question his decision to hold out Daniels until the seventh game.

"Absolutely," the coach said. "But decisions are made based on what gives us the best opportunity to win. A lot of that has to do with JT's mobility (coming off the knee injury) and Stetson's play. When he struggled, we had to look somewhere else. JT took advantage of his opportunity."

Georgia travels for its next game to face South Carolina — and Gamecocks interim coach Mike Bobo, a former Georgia quarterback and assistant coach — in the Thanksgiving week slot usually reserved for the rivalry game against Georgia Tech. The teams aren't meeting this season with the SEC playing a league-only schedule.

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