ATHENS – It’s not that Florida coach Jim McElwain isn’t impressed by what Jake Fromm has done. It’s that when it comes to why Fromm is doing well, McElwain is just as impressed by what Georgia has put around the freshman quarterback.
“They do an outstanding job there. They’ve got some really good people on that side of the ball,” McElwain said. “They’ve done a really good job of increasing those playmakers around that position. Obviously a year ago they had some injuries. Some of those guys are playing great and taking some of the pressure off that position.”
It wasn’t clear what injuries McElwain was referring to – there were a minimal amount on the offensive side of the ball in 2016, when Jacob Eason was Georgia’s freshman starting quarterback.
Either way, this year Fromm, after taking over for the injured Eason, has run off with the job, currently leading the SEC in yards per pass attempt and pass-efficiency rating, while ranking only 11th in total passing yards. McElwain, speaking Wednesday on the SEC teleconference, attributed that in large part to the team around him, and not just on offense.
“The other piece of it is they’re playing really good special teams, and playing good defense, and winning field position. You know, and not asking him to do a ton, if that makes sense, but rather do it within the system,” McElwain said. “Kirby obviously has done an outstanding job of that. But Jim Chaney, Sam Pittman and those guys have been at it a really long time, and do a good job of fitting it to those guys.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, speaking earlier on the teleconference, basically backed up McElwain’s point when asked what a freshman quarterback has to do to succeed.
“Be patient. Take what the defense gives you,” Smart said. “Play behind your own defense, your own special teams, protect the ball and just make good decisions.”
Smart got a lot of quarterback-related questions during his 10-minute appearance on the call Wednesday, including on what he looks for when recruiting quarterbacks (“more than arm talent”) and the chief adjustments from high school to college (playing under center and reading defenses.)
There was also the Fromm-Eason dynamic. A reporter asked Smart what went into his thinking after Eason got hurt in the opener, which led to Fromm taking the field and not relinquishing the starting job, at least to this point.
“People make a bigger deal out of it than it is,” Smart said. “Eason was out. And while Eason was out, we practiced Fromm. He got developed. He got better. He worked hard. He did some good things. He’s gotten better with each game. He’s playing well right now.”
But while Eason was out, Smart added, the sophomore stayed in meetings and worked to get better. Eason ended up missing three full games, then played in the fourth of quarter of two blowouts, but not at the end of the Missouri game last Saturday.
“He’s been working, he’s still growing as a quarterback,” Smart said of Eason. “He got thrown to the fire last year, the same way a little bit that Fromm did, different circumstances, but they both played at an early age, and they’re both growing as quarterbacks, and they’re both learning and getting better. But they both know that our goals are the team goals and we’re going to make decisions based on what gives the team the best chance to have success.”
Florida and Georgia will meet Oct. 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET, in Jacksonville, Fla. CBS will air the game.