The Auburn Tigers will be playing a little "Let's Make a Deal" this week when preparing for Georgia's starting quarterback on Saturday night inside Sanford Stadium.
Behind door No. 1 is D'Wan Mathis, who earned the start for the opening trip to Arkansas but struggled and was replaced before halftime. Behind door No. 2 is Stetson Bennett, the former Bulldogs walk-on who took the reins and helped rally Georgia from a 7-2 deficit to a 37-10 win. And behind No. 3 is JT Daniels, the transfer from Southern California who wasn't cleared medically to play in the opener but has been for the showdown between the No. 4 Bulldogs and No. 7 Tigers.
"Each quarterback is probably a little bit different, and they've played one game with a new offensive coordinator," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "It's kind of like playing a first game again. We're just going to have to adjust and be ready to make changes if needed as the game goes on."
Georgia coach Kirby Smart announced the availability of Daniels during Monday's weekly Zoom call but was quick to say that does not mean he's the starter.
"We are going to continue to work with all the guys we've got to put the best guy in there to give us the best opportunity to win," Smart said. "D'Wan did not play as bad as it seemed to some. I thought he did some good things after watching the tape, and he had some unfortunate bad breaks that happened while he was in. JT will be cleared, but I don't know how much that changes the picture in terms of reps and development.
"We will be looking at everybody across the board. JT has got to be able to show us that he can function efficiently and do it with his knee being able to do it."
Daniels played in 11 games as a freshman for the Trojans in 2018, completing 216 of 363 passes for 2,672 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His sophomore season was scratched by a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the opener against Fresno State, and he transferred to Georgia in May, receiving immediate eligibility in July.
Mathis received praise throughout the preseason but was erratic against the Razorbacks, completing 8 of 17 passes for 55 yards and an interception. With 10:07 remaining in the second quarter, Bennett entered and proceeded to go 20-of-29 for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"I expect to go in every game, because you never know when your jersey is going to get called," Bennett said Saturday. "Even in a year like this with COVID, people can go down at any time."
Smart, who made the switch from Greyson Lambert to Jacob Eason between the first and second games of his first season with the Bulldogs in 2016, stated Monday that he is viewing the quarterback battle on a larger scale than the Deep South's oldest rivalry. The Bulldogs have won 12 of the last 15 series meetings and have not lost to the Tigers inside Sanford Stadium since 2005.
"It's a lot more important how we play around him and how we support him, because whoever is able to do that the best and get the most of the people around them is going to be the guy who moves the ball and produces," Smart said. "At the end of the day, that's what we want to do, whether that's one guy or two guys. We're not putting ourselves in a pigeonhole, saying, 'We can only have one quarterback.'
"We've got to develop all of our quarterbacks. I know you all are looking at it in terms of Auburn and who's the quarterback, but we're trying to look at our entire roster and say, 'How are we going to be the best we can be in week two, three, four, five, six and down the line?'"
Auburn built some defensive momentum under veteran coordinator Kevin Steele during its 29-13 opening win over Kentucky at Jordan-hare Stadium, forcing the Wildcats into three turnovers and holding them scoreless in the fourth quarter. Tigers senior defensive tackle Daquan Newkirk was asked this week about the challenge of facing Georgia not knowing the starting quarterback.
"There is no challenge, because we have Coach Steele, and he's the best of the best," Newkirk said. "He knows what he's going to do, and he's going to put us in the right position to make the right plays."
Deep South notes
Smart expects a healthy lineup this week, adding that receiver Kearis Jackson and outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson should be fine after "getting dinged up" at Arkansas. Former McCallie School defensive lineman Jay Hardy didn't dress against Kentucky due to an injury suffered in practice last week, but Malzahn expects him back this week.
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