If there’s anything instructive about the Georgia quarterback position from what we’ve seen the last two years, then it’s this: Jake Fromm will start Georgia’s season opener against Austin Peay, then Justin Fields will start the rest of the way.
Two years ago: Jacob Eason grabs a headset for the better part of the first game as Greyson Lambert starts, then Eason takes over in Week 2, on a permanent basis.
Last year: Eason starts the opener, gets hurt in the first quarter, Fromm replaces him and leads Georgia to the National Championship Game. And as a reward for being the first Georgia quarterback in 34 years to do so, Fromm will have to compete with a 5-star freshman just to keep his job.
Oh, you may say, there’s no way Georgia would bench the guy who so confidently and flawlessly led his team to an SEC championship and a Rose Bowl victory. This was no Trent Dilfer along for the ride with the Ravens. Or to quote the classic Onion headline: “Bears lead Rex Grossman to Super Bowl.”
Fromm was not without his flaws, but they were few. His final freshman-season stats: 24 TD, 7 INT, 2,615 passing yards, 62.2 completion percentage. Eerily similar to Aaron Murray as a redshirt freshman: 24 TD, 8 INT, 3,049 passing yards, 61.1 completion percentage. And Fromm won six more games as a starter.
It also needs to be taken into account how Fromm looked as a starter in the 2017 season. For all the perception that Georgia was riding its defense and run game, when it needed a big throw, Fromm tended to make it. At least until the fourth quarter of the final game, and it wasn’t like much of anything for UGA was clicking at that point.
“I’ve always said this that if we ever got in a situation we had to go throw it, I wasn’t the one worried about [Fromm],” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “You guys are all, ‘What happens if Georgia has to throw it?’ I was never too worried about it. I think he can demonstrate what he can do. That’s what he did his whole high school career, sit there and throw it. So I wasn’t worried too much about it.”
So what was Georgia doing in targeting Fields? Well, as the Eason situation goes, you never know. That’s how Kirby Smart put it when asked, essentially, why the coaches put so much energy into a position that was seemingly set for a few years. Just ask Alabama whether it was glad it kept recruiting quarterbacks even after Jalen Hurts nearly led it to a national title as a freshman.
As we transition into Georgia’s offseason, we will take a look at the changes at each position group, the incoming players, and analyze how it could play out in 2018. This week, in case the long introduction was not a good enough clue, we begin with …
Key losses: Jacob Eason (transfer), Brice Ramsey (eligibility).
Top returners: Jake Fromm, Soph.
Newcomers: Justin Fields, Fr.
Others: Stetson Bennett, R-Fr. (walk-on), Sam Vaughn, Sr. (walk-on), John Seter, R-Fr. (walk-on).
Analysis: At the risk of sounding like a coach, competition only can make Fromm better. And if Fields turns out to be too good not to start, then one assumes that can only be a good thing. There are those who watch the program closely who think that will be the case with Fields, who is better as a passer than many assume. (According to at least one person we’ve spoken to.) That said, does Fields have that (cliché alert again) “it factor” that Fromm brought to the table as a freshman? Would players gravitate to Fields the way they did to Fromm? And would Fields be able to manage the offense, check into plays at the line, and make the same accurate throws at crucial times? These are all things we might not know until Fields actually sees action. And when that will be, who knows.
One guarantee: Fields’ performance on G-Day will be analyzed even more than the performances of Fromm and Eason when they were freshmen. Fields isn’t going to redshirt – no chance of that unless he gets hurt – but if there’s any real chance of him beating out Fromm, the bar will have to be high, considering what Fromm did as a freshman.
Next in this series: Running backs.