ATHENS, Ga. — There’s an argument being made — very loudly on social media — by some that Georgia should have turned Saturday’s game over to true freshman quarterback Justin Fields at halftime, when the Bulldogs were down 16-0.
Coach Kirby Smart likely isn’t surprised, well aware that losing a game 36-16 opens up any coach for second guessing, particularly when there’s a talent like Fields available and the starter is struggling.
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It’s always good to bring information and background to discussions such as these, as perception can often overtake reality.
Georgia sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm had a tough day in Baton Rouge, getting off to a 2-of-10 passing start en route to a 16-of-34, 209-yard 2-interception (1 TD) performance that included 3 sacks.
Of course, Fromm led the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship last season as a true freshman. Had a senior safety not broken an assignment in overtime, Fromm could have been a national championship quarterback, too.
Fromm brought an 18-2 record as Georgia’s starting quarterback into the raucous Tiger den otherwise known as “Death Valley” on Saturday along with a gaudy 72-percent completion rate.
Once the Bulldogs fell behind, Smart and his coaches felt Fromm was the best bet to mount a comeback as the had in the Rose Bowl when trailing Oklahoma by 17 points in the second quarter.
Hindsight is 20-20, however, leading some to suggest Georgia should have gambled on their talented, but unproven freshman.
Fields is 18-of-25 passing for 200 yards with 2 touchdowns this season, and he has rushed 18 times for 136 yards and 3 touchdowns.
But a closer look reveals Fields is just 5-of-9 passing for 66 yards against SEC teams this season.
When one consider the complexity of the fronts and pressures LSU was throwing at Georgia, and the communication complications created by the crowd noise, it’s easier to understand why Smart felt he should stick with the more experienced and proven player.
Some have pointed to how Alabama turned to its true freshman Tua Tagovailoa at halftime of the College Football Playoff Championship Game against Georgia, suggesting Nick Saban would have made a move.
Here’s the thing: Saban didn’t turn to Tagovailoa when the Tide fell behind at Auburn in the regular-season finale 26-14 with 12:49 remaining.
In fact, most are now aware that former Alabama offensive coordinator Brian Daboll wanted to go with Tagovailoa earlier in the season and Saban stuck with incumbent Jalen Hurts.
When the Tide did make “The Move” in the College Football Playoff title game, Tagovailoa was considerably more advanced that Fields has shown at this stage of his young career.
Tagovailoa was 35-of-53 for 470 yards with 8 touchdowns and an interception to that point in the season.
The biggest difference between the preparedness of the two quarterbacks for the purposes of this comparison is in the level of experience against SEC competition.
Fields is 5-of-9 passing for 66 yards in SEC games — and he’s thrown just one pass in an SEC road environment, completing an 8-yard pass at South Carolina,
Tagovailoa was 21-of-29 passing for 321 yards with 4 touchdowns and an interception in SEC play leading into the CFP title game — 8-of-10 for 103 yards in the only road game he attempted a pass, at Vanderbilt.
The question now becomes if Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney make a move during the bye week, as Georgia readies for its annual Jacksonville showdown against SEC East Division co-leader Florida.
It’s an interesting discussion and one that’s sure to continue, but at the end of the day, the coaches will make the call.
Smart and Chaney have, after all, had the benefit of watching both quarterbacks through spring, fall and weekly scrimmage action in practices.
Certainly, the Georgia coaches are inclined to play the personnel that gives the Bulldogs the best chance to win.
Comparing Justin Fields and Tua Tagovailoa
OVERALL: Tagovailoa before facing Georgia, Fields before LSU game
Tagovailoa: 7 games, 35-of-53 passing, 470 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT, 15 carries, 106 yards, 2 TDs
Fields: 7 games, 18-of-25 passing, 200 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT, 18 carries, 136 yards, 3 TDs
SEC ACTION: Tagovailoa before facing Georgia, Fields before LSU game
Tagovailoa: 3 games, 21-of-29 passing, 321 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 9 carries, 95 yards, 2 TDs
Fields: 4 games, 5-of-9 passing, 66 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INT, 11 carries, 69 yards 2 TDs
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