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JT Daniels on what difference a year makes

JT Daniels still remembers his first taste of southern football culture.

As he and his family drove to Athens from the Atlanta airport, they saw Georgia Bulldog flags flying everywhere. It came as a culture shock to the California quarterback, who called football "just one other thing" on the West Coast.

Now, there are no more surprises. Daniels is settled in and firmly entrenched as Georgia's starting quarterback. That stability has Daniels feeling confident heading into the monumental showdown with Clemson to kick off the season.

"Just the rep total that you get, the increase in your role among the team, the influence you have over what we do offensively, with the guys, how we run routes, how we protect, certain things that we do," Daniels said. "For me, it’s a pretty big difference in terms of how I feel coming into week one and I think how the offense is going to feel coming into week one."

The Bulldogs have been working on their chemistry ever since last season ended. At one point this summer, several Georgia players went with Daniels to California to get work in on their own.

Still, the process hasn't been without its challenges. Star receiver George Pickens went down with a torn ACL in spring practice. Key pass-catchers Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson have also missed time at various points.

Even with all the disruption, Daniels feels more than comfortable with the receivers at his disposal.

"We have a lot of guys, first of all, a lot of guys I feel comfortable with," Daniels said. "Just the amount of work we got in in the offseason, guys missing a couple of days here, or you’ve got guys rolling in and out, however it is, we have the rapport that we’ve been building over time. There are no concerns with that for me."

Daniels gave the classic answer when asked about opening the season with an opponent like Clemson. He said it's just another game and the result doesn't have too much bearing on the rest of the season.

However, Daniels did call the game "cool" and added that it's an "awesome stage" to play on. He's no stranger to this type of monster game.

As a freshman at USC in 2018, Daniels and the Trojans played at Texas. Daniels recalled having to shout for his running back to hear his call, adding he'd never really dealt with crowd noise until that night.

In that game, the then-freshman Daniels completed 30-of-48 passes for 322 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Even in a 37-14 loss, Daniels fared fairly well.

The key, he said, came down to managing his nerves. He admitted he'd never felt more nervous for a game than against the Longhorns, and he felt it on the first drive of the game.

But Daniels took a minute to think about what nerves mean. It aided him against Texas, and it will help him maintain composure against Clemson as well.

"It’s just your body’s response to knowing that you’re doing something that means something to you and something that matters, and just to breathe through it and be excited for the moment," Daniels said. "The way that you approach it with your perspective makes a big difference compared to if the nerves are going to bring you down or help build you up."

Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) during the Bulldogs’ practice session in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Sports Communications)
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) during the Bulldogs’ practice session in Athens, Ga., on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Sports Communications)