ATHENS — Georgia’s offense has sputtered in SEC play, getting off to slow starts against league competition and having its share of issues with quarterback ball security and the downfield pass game.
Coach Kirby Smart has addressed his priorities for Jake Fromm this week, and it’s something the Bulldogs will continue to work on leading up to the 7:30 p.m. game on Saturday against Vanderbilt.
“The number one thing Jake has to do is protect the ball — what we can’t have is the ball on the ground,” Smart said, referring to Fromm fumbling while hit in the pocket three times in the past three games. “Jake is one of the best I’ve seen at management in the pocket, movement in the pocket. There have been a couple of times this year where he’s had nowhere to go, and one of those caused fumbles the other day.
“There was a free guy coming right up the middle; he couldn’t step up real well. But we work really hard on that. We actually do more than any place I’ve ever been where we have pass rush in practice so that the quarterback has to move in the pocket. Both quarterbacks are working hard on that.”
Justin Fields also fumbled at quarterback, as did Elijah Holyfield after taking a direct snap, but both were able to recover the football.
The Bulldogs issues go beyond ball security and into the downfield pass game, as Georgia has had issues connecting deep and on obvious pass plays this season.
Fromm is 1-of-14 converting for a first down on plays of third-and-9 or longer this season, and the results have been at times disastrous. Fromm has been sacked four times out of those 14 plays, thrown two interceptions and fumbled on another occasion.
Former Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer might have provided a blueprint of how to contain the Bulldogs last Saturday.
Georgia’s longest play was a fumble advanced 31 yards. Other than that, there was only one play longer than 16 yards — a 23-yard pass completion to Jeremiah Holloman.
Pruitt said Tennessee had coverage sacks, but Smart sharply disagreed with that, saying there were breakdowns in protections.
“The number one thing we have to do is protect the quarterback, and that comes from a lot of people,” Smart said. “.What Jake’s good at is keeping his eyes down field and making sure that he’s looking at the coverage and knowing where to go with the ball. It’s hard to look at two things sometimes.
“But we do think he has to protect it well, and he’ll be the first to recognize that if he gets an opportunity to run. Jake is a viable runner. He ran for a lot of things last year. He hasn’t had that opportunity and instinctively hasn’t taken off yet.”
The Georgia pass game hasn’t taken off either, seventh in the SEC and 76th in the nation with just 219.8 yards per game through the air.
Smart has said Georgia will stick to the power run game, and that he’s prepared to use both quarterbacks moving forward in a rotation that has become more fluid as the season progresses.
The improvement will come, Smart said, when players start executing.
“We’re an efficient team, we can make big plays, we’ve got explosive players,” Smart said. “We have to win our one-on-one battles, because if we’re good in the run game, good in play action and we can convert on third down, you’re hard to stop.
“But at the end of the day a lot of the times we’ve stopped ourselves more than somebody’s stopped us. And we’ll work hard on it and try to get better at it.”