ATHENS — Georgia freshman quarterback Justin Fields proved he could take a hit in the first half against Middle Tennessee.
In the second half, Fields showed he’s a fast learner, looking more composed and comfortable passing in the pocket than he has at any point in this young season.
Fields was 6-for-8 passing for 71 yards and a touchdown on Saturday. He was the second of three Bulldogs quarterbacks to play in a 49-7 win over Middle Tennessee at Sanford Stadium.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm got the start and turned in a worthy performance, completing 10 of 12 passes for 128 yards with three touchdowns.
But Fields continued to show enough with his opportunities that the conversation for playing time will continue in the Georgia fanbase and on the coaching staff.
For a brief moment, some wondered if Fields would even get up off the turf after he absorbed a vicious shot to the back of the head that led to an ejection in the second quarter.
Fields had his helmet knocked off when Middle Tennessee linebacker Khalil Brooks delivered a helmet-to-helmet shot with 53 seconds left in the second quarter.
It was exactly the type of hit Kirby Smart has warned Fields and Fromm to avoid.
Georgia has just two scholarship quarterbacks on its roster and has plans for another 15-game season, so losing either to injury would greatly affect play calls and damage depth at that fragile position.
“We ask all our quarterbacks not to take hits, and we’d prefer they not,” Smart said after Saturday’s win. “I think [Fields] was at a point where he didn’t have many options. He was trying to get a first down and trying to create something with momentum in a two-minute drive, so the situation just arose like it did.”
Fields was fighting for extra yards when Brooks, from Mays High School in Atlanta, came in to finish off a tackle. After a review, Mays was ejected for targeting.
Smart allowed Fields to stay in the game after the big hit. Three plays later, Fields was off and running again, breaking a tackle for a 15-yard touchdown to give the Bulldogs a 42-7 lead.
Fields earning more time
The Georgia quarterback situation was and is fluid at the moment, though Fromm remains the starter.
But Smart made it clear he and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney knew Fields would get into the Middle Tennessee game earlier than later.
“He had a good week of practice. He was really locked in, really focused, he prepared really well,” Smart said. “We think he’s a good player. We’re trying to find ways to get good players on the field.”
Still, Fields had nearly as many carries (three carries, 31 yards), as passes (3-for-4, 37 yards) in the first half despite Georgia’s relatively conservative play calling.
“I think early on, he’s a freshman,” Smart said, explaining Fields’ panicked runs. “He’s hyper. He’s excited.”
Fields looked considerably more composed in the pocket in the second half, settling in to complete 3-of-4 passes for 34 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter.
Fields’ touchdown throw was the sort most often seen on Sundays, as he fired a bullet through traffic to Jayson Stanley in the end zone.
“I think he just got more and more comfortable,” Smart said. “He sees things well. He can come over and tell you what he saw, and that’s important to me to make sure his eyes are downfield and he’s seeing the right things …. You’re right, in the second half he did sit in there much more comfortable an relaxed and did some good things.”
As for the scrambling, Smart told the media what he’s telling Fields behind the scenes.
“IF things break down, and IF there’s pressure, he can use his feet and create and he does a good job doing that,” Smart said, emphasizing the word ‘if.’
Fourth series entry
Fields entered the game on the fourth series of Saturday’s game with the Bulldogs up 14-0 and 2:31 left in the first quarter.
He handed off to Elijah Holyfield on the first play from the Georgia 6-yard line after a change of possession.
Facing a second-and-4 at the 12, Fields faked a handoff and rolled to his right, flipping a pass to tight end Isaac Nauta that went for 20 yards.
Two plays later, Fields took off running on a third-and-6 and gained 8 yards, but he was sandwiched between two Middle Tennessee defenders, taking the breath away from many in the crowd.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Fields bounced back up, and on the next play, he handed off to Tyler Simmons for a 56-yard touchdown run that made it 21-0.
Fromm was back in the game on the next two series, and he began the final series of the half before Fields came in on the second play facing a second-and-6 a the Bulldogs’ 45. Fields scrambled and took the dangerous hit on the next play.
Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill made a reference to Fields when assessing Georgia.
“We couldn’t get pressure on the quarterback,” Stockstill said, “and that guy can run by you.”
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- Middle Tennessee coach says Georgia ‘swallowed us up’
- Jake Fromm not thrilled with offensive performance, despite big-play day
- Georgia football stock report: Mecole Hardman and Deandre Baker look golden
- Game Ball: Elijah Holyfield becomes Georgia’s first 100-yard rusher of season
- No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs follow script in 49-7 win over Middle Tennessee