ATHENS — It wouldn’t be a Georgia game week without quarterback play being discussed, and Monday of Florida week was no different.
The thought that Kirby Smart’s answer might be any different than it was last week would be unrealistic, however.
“It’s the same message we’ve had all along: We want to play the guy that gives us the best opportunity to be successful,” Smart said at his weekly news conference on Monday. “And that comes from a lot of reps in practice, a lot of work in practice. They both got a tremendous amount of work last week and we’ll continue to make that decision based on what gives us the best opportunity to be successful.”
To date, that answer has been resoundingly Jake Fromm. Even in the last game, as the Bulldogs’ offense and Fromm specifically struggled in a road loss at LSU, freshman Justin Fields played only five snaps and only two of them consecutively.
Afterward, there was a predictable outcry that Georgia needed to do more to incorporate the former 5-star prospect from Kennesaw into the offensive game plan. Smart has maintained that the coaching staff won’t be swayed by public opinion and will continue to base its decisions primarily on weekly evaluations from practice and daily quarterback meetings.
Meanwhile, the No. 7-ranked Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 SEC) are getting ready to play their most important game of the season. And in the No. 9-ranked Florida Gators (6-1, 4-1), Georgia will be facing one of the SEC’s most aggressive defenses. Above all else, Florida — under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham — gets after the quarterback.
The Gators are third in the SEC and 18th nationally with an average of three sacks a game and their 29 sacks have resulted in 149 yards loss. Not coincidentally, Florida is third in the league in turnover margin at plus-9. Only LSU, who also victimized Georgia with three sacks, has more takeaways (19) than the Gators’ 18. Those include an SEC-leading 11 fumble recoveries and 7 interceptions.
There is reason to suspect that the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Fields, known for his exceptional mobility and elite passing arm, might be able to stave off an aggressive pass rush. The question is whether he has a strong enough grasp of the offensive playbook to go up against such an experienced and sophisticated defense.
The key, the Bulldogs say, is simply better execution no matter who is under center for them.
“I’m ready to go against a great defense,” said sophomore left tackle Andrew Thomas. “We’ve been working pretty hard and getting healthy. So we’re just ready for the challenge.”
Said junior running back Elijah Holyfield: “We just know we have to execute. We realize that if you don’t execute versus really good teams, you get beat.”
Georgia’s offensive performance against LSU was definitely an anomaly with respect to how it has played all season. The Bulldogs were limited to 322 total yards and 16 points in the 36-16 loss to the Tigers. That represented 163 fewer yards and 27 fewer points than their season averages going into that game.
But overall, the Bulldogs remain one of the SEC’s top offensive teams, averaging 39 points and 462 yards a game. Florida is sixth in the SEC in total defense at 323.3 yards and seventh in points allowed at 16.6.
The hope for Georgia is that Fromm just had a bad day. He remains fourth in the league in pass efficiency with a 170.4 rating. He comes in passing for 201.3 yards a game with a 66.9 percent completion percentage and 13 touchdowns to 4 interceptions.
Fields is 18-of-25 for 200 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. But his meaningful game reps are decidedly fewer, and he’s averaging only 14.6 snaps a game as it is.
No matter who is under center, the Bulldogs will have to play much better offensively against Florida. And that goes double when it comes to the Gators’ overall focus on pressuring the quarterback.
“The big deal for us is being able to make good decisions and putting the quarterback in good situations,” Smart said. “… Those are things we continue to work on and try to develop.”