JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Georgia coach Kirby Smart has remained consistent in his management of the quarterbacks, through good times and tough times.
The fluid nature of doing what’s best for the team, depending on the situation, led to freshman quarterback Justin Fields not seeing playing time for the first time this season in Georgia’s 36-17 win over Florida on Saturday.
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Starter Jake Fromm made good on his opportunities to make plays and manage the team in the big-game setting TIAA Bank Field presented for the emotional rivalry game.
“The decisions that we make for our team at all positions are based on what happens at practice, what happens in games and how the flow of the game goes,” Smart said. “But the outside noise probably affects the players a lot more than it affects me. Because I have to make decisions based on what affects our organization the right way.”
Many fans and some media were clamoring for the talented but unproven Fields to play, second-guessing Smart and his staff after a 36-16 loss at LSU two weeks ago.
Fields has thrown just one pass outside of Sanford Stadium this season, not playing more than 21 snaps in any outing yet.
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And yet, some suggested Smart should bench Fromm, who’s now 19-3 as a starter after leading UGA to an SEC title and a national title game appearance last season.
“Jake understands what we’re trying to do offensively, and he did a good job of dealing out the ball when he had an opportunity and he made some big throws tonight to some guys that were open and to some guys that were in tight coverage,” Smart said Saturday night.
“Justin Fields continues to work and get better, too,” Smart said. “For the last two weeks that kid got a lot of reps and he got better. I’m disappointed he didn’t get an opportunity to play and I’m sure he is, too. But he is a competitor and he continues to get better.
“We have a situation where we have two of what I think are really good quarterbacks.”
Fields, who has averaged 14.5 snaps per game, played only five snaps in the loss at LSU.
The most extensive action that Fields has seen this season was in games with Vanderbilt and Austin Peay, receiving 21 snaps in both of those games.
Some were surprised Fields didn’t see action in the first half, even with Georgia leading 13-7.
ESPN analyst and Georgia defensive specialist David Pollack predicted Friday that Fields would see more snaps against Florida than any previous game this season.
SEC quarterback legend Tim Tebow went through a similar situation as a freshman quarterback at Florida. He said this week that Fields has the confidence to make something happen.
Fields’ only road pass this season was an 8-yard completion at South Carolina. Fields is 5-of-9 passing for 66 yards against SEC teams, and 18-of-25 passing overall for 200 yards.
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Smart said earlier in the week he has been impressed with the progress Fields has been making.
“He’s doing a great job. He’s competing every day, doing a good job, throwing good balls,” Smart said. “I mean, he’s developing. He’s come a long way from the first of the season to now, to where he’s reading coverages, protections. He’s done a really good job of picking up things in this offense, and I think that says volumes about his work ethic to be where he is.”
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Smart said there are still many areas left for Fields to grow.
“All areas, calling the play in the huddle, from when he got here until now, he’s so much further along,” Smart said. “I think seeing Jake do it and watching Jake manage it and seeing Jake do things, he’s learned from that. He’s very bright.”
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