There were the Bulldogs stumbling around early against Vanderbilt Saturday night. Do that enough, bad things happen. And, lo, Georgia trailed for the first time this season – if only minimally – when the Commodores cashed in a 25-yard field goal four-and-a-half minutes into the game.
The deficit lasted no longer than the time it took to type that last sentence.
On the next play from scrimmage, Jake Fromm hit Terry Godwin in stride as he streaked down the middle of field. Twisting out of a tackle, Godwin, who is slowly working his way back to threat level status after nagging knee and calf issues, did the rest of the hard work on a 75-yard catch and run. Georgia led 7-3. Let the record show that the Bulldogs now have trailed for exactly 15 seconds this season.
Kirby Smart talks about wearing down teams, slowly robbing them of their will. But the home run ball is rather important, too (ask the Dodgers).
The flipping of the switch probably hasn’t happened consistently enough the first half of this season. Of this Saturday, Kirby Smart looked at the night in sum – the 13 penalties (several of them bogus) and Vanderbilt’s ability to hold the ball (winning the time of possession, if not the game) – and concluded, “I was disappointed with the way we played.”
But his quarterback – and that is quarterback, singular, mind you – was not the issue. Not one who finishes 17-of-23 for a season-high 276 yards and three touchdowns.
While the Bulldogs seemed to require a little prompting to get up off the couch of this unbeaten season and flip the switch, Fromm was willing when asked. Another Vandy field goal led to the Bulldogs’ second notable high-voltage moment of Saturday.
The Commodores had edged to within 14-6 with just more than two minutes left in the first half. Georgia had squandered all its timeouts. No matter. Running up-tempo, Fromm hit 5 of his next passes and covered 75 yards in just over a minute. You would almost call it surgical, if one could remove a kidney in a minute and 10 seconds.
“I thought Jake did a great job of managing the clock,” said Smart, who otherwise was in little mood to spread kudos.
“It’s what I did in high school, so playing up-tempo is right up my alley,” Fromm said. “Let’s find out where the (defenders) aren’t at and go attack that area. Try to take advantage of their lack of being ready, something I’m used to doing.
“We have that in our back pocket and it’s something we’re pretty good at.”
You may have noted a common denominator to the moments that shaped Saturday night. A single one beyond the eight different Bulldogs who recorded at least one reception and the cadre of runners who accumulated 219 rushing yards against a defense stacked against the rush.
Don’t get lost in the static of the last few weeks. Don’t let Smart’s coy use of Justin Fields distract you from a basic truth that still holds for Georgia:
This is Fromm’s team. This is Fromm’s time.
Saturday night was another case of quarterback by coin flip for the Bulldogs, with the freshman Fields inserted sporadically, in order to sow confusion among the defense and the press corps high in its box. You know there are qualities the freshman possesses that the second-year man Fromm never will. Fields is combustible on offense in a way that Fromm isn’t.
But sometimes lost in the fascination with Fields is the fact that this team is only going to go as far as Fromm takes it. There are qualities unique to him, too. Presuming Georgia ever finds itself in position where it absolutely must drive the length of the field in a sliver of time, then Fromm is still the right man for the job. When it is time to deal in efficiency and a proven command of the moment, that is still Fromm’s forte. Saturday was a small reminder of this.
Here’s the player who last week completed 70 percent of his passes for 185 yards but was still considered out of sorts. Fromm felt much better Saturday. “It wasn’t great last week as far as throwing the ball. It was good to come back out and say, hey, we can still do it,” he said, only a little bit wryly.
And as Fromm goes, so goes the offense.
“We’re still not playing as great as we want to, but we’re starting to hit that stride I believe,” he said. “We’re getting faster and faster. This was so momentum we can grow on.”
The Bulldogs now leap into the deep end of the pool. The schedule gets meaner. They will not be back at Sanford Stadium for a full month.
The situation calls for someone with a keen knowledge of the circuitry of this offense, a proven switch-flipper.