ATHENS – It’s getting almost comical, the refrain that Georgia can’t pass the football. As I’ve said every time it comes up, which is pretty much every day, there’s a difference in “can’t pass” and “not passing.” At the moment, the top-ranked Bulldogs are not having to pass.
Put another way, Georgia is choosing not to pass because it does not have to. You may have seen or heard about the backfield the Bulldogs have assembled this season and the margins of victory the team is recording. But never mind all that.
Based on what I’ve seen with my own two eyes and what a close look at the numbers indicates, Georgia is not doing that because Jake Fromm is incapable of handling the task. On the contrary, actually.
If you consider some of the statistics Fromm is posting, there could be an argument made that coaches are not letting him throw enough. I’m figuring offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is privy to the same data I am, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see him have the Bulldogs air it out a little more in the coming days and weeks.
Actually, if you survey the place where Georgia currently finds itself – atop the College Football Playoff rankings and looking at a remaining slate of four regular-season games in which it will be the favored team – it might be a good idea to start dusting off the old aerial attack. While the Bulldogs haven’t really needed to air out it, a time is surely coming when they will.
And what we can’t know at the moment, because we just haven’t seen it enough, is if Fromm and company can respond to a have-to-pass and need-to-score-quick scenario with the game on the line. But I’m saying the boys have it in them, that young one wearing the No. 11 jersey in particular.
In fact, we’ve all seen Fromm respond quite well to “have-to-have scenarios” regularly throughout the season. Just take a gander at his work on third down.
Did you realize that Georgia ranks fifth nationally and first in in the SEC in third-down conversions? The Bulldogs are converting at a gaudy rate of 50 percent (55 for 110). For some perspective, Alabama led the conference at 43.8 percent a year ago. But it gets better.
As for Fromm specifically, the freshman from Warner Robins, Ga., has completed a total of 79 passes this season, fewest among the SEC’s regular starters. Of those, 17 of them have been third-down completions of 12 yards or more. I was unable to determine how many of those were slant patterns.
At no time was this tendency better illustrated than in the Missouri game. Everybody knows that Fromm had a season high 326 yards passing against the Tigers and that the Bulldogs were 13 of 18 on third downs. But did you realize that Fromm converted eight of those with passes of 16 yards or more? The longest was a 59-yard touchdown to Mecole Hardman.
Then there are the passes Fromm has thrown that haven’t been caught. The Bulldogs’ receivers for the most part have done a pretty good job of catching the few passes that have been thrown their way. But Hardman struggled some in that regard earlier in the year. If he had hung on to Fromm’s perfectly thrown pass late in the third quarter against Notre Dame, Georgia would have had a 53-yard touchdown. Likewise, Hardman dropped what would have been a first down on third-and-10 early in the 41-0 win at Tennessee.
But it was against Notre Dame that we saw the strongest evidence that Fromm might live up to his high school reputation of being a “gamer.” The Bulldogs trailed the Fighting Irish 19-17 with 6:47 to play when they took over at their own 25. In a must-score situation, Fromm completed 3 of 4 passes for 45 yards, including a 31-yarder to Javon Wims that put Georgia in scoring position. He followed that with another 5-yard completion to Mecole Hardman that set up Rodrigo Blankenship’s game-winning 30-yard field goal.
We now know that Georgia was facing one of the top teams in the nation when it visited South Bend on that day, Sept. 9. Lest we forget, that was Fromm’s first career start and just his second college football game ever.
I’m going out on a limb here and guessing that Fromm is probably a better quarterback now than he was then.
So perhaps Georgia will answer the challenge posed by an opposing defensive back this Saturday. It was South Carolina safety Chris Lammons this week who flatly stated of the Bulldogs offense, “They can’t pass.” Last week, it was Florida’s Chauncey Gardner who claimed Fromm throws a lot of slant patterns.
Word is Gardner has recovered from the collision he had with Georgia’s D’Andre Swift on a completed slant pattern. That play went for 18 yards on second-and-11, by the way. It was one of only 7 passes Fromm attempted. He completed 4, meshing with his 61.7 percent completion rate for the season.
I guess the Bulldogs could saunter out there Saturday with a three-or-four-score lead in the second or third quarter against South Carolina or against one of their other remaining opponents and dial up some really cool pass plays just to prove to everybody they know how to do it. I suspect they won’t.
At the end of the day, Chaney and Fromm are simply doing what their head ball coach wants them to do. As Kirby Smart said of the Bulldogs’ passing game earlier this week, “We work on it every day in practice – a lot.”
By the way, Georgia goes “1s versus 1s” in its practices each week. Last time I checked, the Dawgs’ D is pretty good.
I’m thinking that Fromm kid is, too. We’ll see just how good eventually.