ATHENS — Kirby Smart hasn’t been looking at Twitter. He didn’t watch Finebaum Monday or Tuesday. His Facebook page still has his family photo from Alabama.
So if you ask the Georgia football coach if he thinks quarterback Jake Fromm is taking too much heat in the press for how he played Saturday against LSU or if former players are right in saying on social media that Justin Fields should play more, he might look at you like you have two heads.
Then again, Smart looks at reporters that way most of the time when they ask him questions.
“I don’t know what’s being made of it,” Smart said quite genuinely when asked if Fromm is being overly criticized. “That’s the thing. Maybe you guys are making a big deal; it’s not to me. I don’t listen to that. The world we live in, we have to look at the field, we have to look at the practice, we’ve got to look at what’s best for our team. Whoever gives our team the best chance to win is what we’ll decide to do.”
Therein, though, was the answer everybody is looking for. Yes, the freshman Fields could still end up overtaking the sophomore Fromm as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback. If it doesn’t happen in Georgia’s next game, which is a week from Saturday against No. 11 Florida in Jacksonville, then it could happen some time after that.
Or, that may not happen at all.
Fields could get more playing time against the Gators or it’s conceivable that he could play less. Whatever the case, Smart and the Bulldogs’ staff will continue to evaluate the position. But how it ultimately plays out will be based not only on what we all see in games on Saturday, but also what the coaching staff sees daily in practice.
“I’m not going to be influenced by outside forces on who to play or what to do,” Smart said. “Nobody knows what happens on a play when a kid throws the ball because the corner ‘cats’ (blitzes) and he throws the ball away. It looks like he missed a guy, (but) that might have been the best play he made all day because we might not have had the corner picked up and it was going to be a sack if he didn’t do that. So you just can’t go off of statistics.”
So while a full-blown quarterback controversy rages outside Georgia’s Butts-Mehre football complex, inside there remains cold, calculated and objective analysis of what the Bulldogs are doing at that position. And all others, for that matter.
The fact is, neither the Bulldogs’ offense nor its defense has played as well as it needs to if they are to successfully defend their SEC championship. That remains the end goal.
To do that, Fromm needs to play better than he did this past Saturday. The sophomore from Warner Robins completed just 47 percent of his passes and was picked off twice as Georgia was outgained 475 to 322.
But whether that means playing the freshman Fields more and Fromm less is not something Smart was ready to say. Fields played just five snaps against the Tigers. All of but one of the plays were handoffs, with Fields keeping once on a zone-read for a three-yard gain.
“Could (Fromm) have played better? Sure, he could have played better,” Smart said. “A lot of people could have played better. A lot of people could have coached better, too. But that’s over with. We’ve moved on to Florida and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Georgia is well-advised to be focusing intently on the Gators. Whatever weaknesses that LSU exposed within the Bulldogs’ offense, Florida will be well-equipped to exploit as well. The Gators’ defense, under the direction of first-year coordinator Todd Grantham, is similar to LSU’s and statistically superior in critical areas.
The Gators are fifth in the SEC to LSU’s sixth in points allowed (16.6 ppg to 16.9) and Florida leads the league in pass defense (160.1 ypg) while the Tigers remain eighth (219.9). The Gators also are second SEC in sacks (3.00 pg) and are sixth in total defense (323.3 ypg).
The question remains whether Fields provide a remedy for the Bulldogs’ offense. Georgia has been slow getting started in most of its games this season and inconsistent in its ability to run the football.
Smart did nothing to quell the narrative that the quarterback competition remains active and ongoing.
“We’re never closing that door completely at all because we’ve got to play the guy that gives us the best chance to win,” Smart said.
That said, Smart remained tempered in his assessment of whether Fields was ready for a bigger role, never mind taking over as the starter.
“Justin’s growing,” Smart said of the 6-foot-3, 225-pound freshman. “He’s getting better each and every day. I think his maturity is getting better. In the meeting room, he’s picking things up, he’s developing. He’s certainly eager to get that opportunity. He continues to progress and do things in practice and get his opportunity in the games.”