By CHARLES ODUM
ATLANTA (AP) — Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder is known for his dual-threat skills. JT Daniels has used his arm strength to add balance to Georgia’s attack.
The two quarterbacks also boast impressive football intelligence, and that may be the biggest reason neither has lost a game as a starter this season as they prepare to meet in Friday’s Peach Bowl.
Ridder, a junior, has a combined 29 touchdowns, including 17 passing, and hopes to complete an undefeated season for the sixth-ranked Bearcats (9-0).
No. 11 Georgia (7-2) is 3-0 since Daniels, a transfer from Southern Cal, took over as the starter. The Bulldogs, who had been a run-heavy offense, have averaged 41.7 points and almost 500 yards with Daniels under center.
“JT brings a different dynamic to their offense,” Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman said Tuesday. “He’s got a very strong arm, probably the strongest arm in my time being the defensive coordinator here that we’ve faced. We know it will be a huge challenge.”
Georgia’s challenge is containing Ridder, whose 12 rushing touchdowns and 7.34 yards per carry lead all FBS quarterbacks with at least 25 carries.
Ridder scored on a 91-yard run in a 42-13 win over then-No. 16 SMU on Oct. 25. It was the Bearcats’ biggest gain of the season.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he can’t remember seeing a quarterback break free for such a long run. Smart said the 6-foot-4 Ridder has surprising speed.
“I think it’s deceiving how fast he is,” Smart said. “He has really long legs. When he takes off running, you see him outrunning people all over the place. When you start outrunning linebackers and (defensive backs) in college football, it says a lot about your speed.”
Ridder said it was too soon for him to comment on his possible plans for the NFL draft. Daniels, a third-year sophomore, also could declare for the draft.
“I really haven’t given too much thought to anything,” Daniels said. “This week is Cincinnati. Once the offseason comes, I’ll be thinking about the offseason.”
Daniels threw three touchdown passes, including two to George Pickens, in the Bulldogs’ last game, a 49-14 win over Missouri on Dec. 12.
Some wonder if the Bulldogs could have been in the College Football Playoff if they had changed quarterbacks sooner.
Daniels wasn’t medically cleared for the start of the season while recovering from a knee injury. Smart made the change after Stetson Bennett completed 5 of 16 passes for 78 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 44-28 loss to Florida on Nov. 7.
In Georgia’s next game, Daniels threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Mississippi State. He also impressed left tackle Jamaree Salyer with his toughness after taking a big hit on a blitz.
“I was like, wow, this kid just took his first hit,” Salyer said Tuesday. “In my mind, how is he going to react? Is he going to lay on the ground, be broken? He got up, ‘Hit me again.’ He told the defender to hit me again. I think he threw a touchdown on the next play, too. … OK, cool, we got a tough kid. We don’t always get the toughest guy coming in, but that guy is tough.”
Daniels’ arm strength transformed the offense.
“It brings a lot of confidence to us as a unit on offense knowing we can throw the ball downfield if we need to,” wide receiver Kearis Jackson said Tuesday. “Just knowing we have a quarterback who is reliable to throw the ball downfield.”
Daniels’ decisions also impressed Jackson.
“Just being around JT, you actually learn how smart he is,” Jackson said. “He’s a very intelligent guy. He’s able to make checks. He sees things that we don’t see. He just puts us in a great position to be successful, just pre-snap reads, anything like that.”
Georgia’s coach said Ridder has similar savvy.
“He puts them in the right play a lot,” Smart said. “I think they put a lot on him, check-wise. You can see he does a great job of getting them in the right play. You very rarely see them in a play that is bad for them.”