Georgia freshman QB Justin Fields a fix for short-yardage struggles
ATHENS — There’s an obvious solution for Georgia’s short-yardage and Red Zone struggles against teams with dominant fronts, and his name is Justin Fields.
Jake Fromm reminded everyone why he’s the starting quarterback with a command performance in the 36-17 win over Florida on Saturday.
But when the field shrinks inside the 10-yard line, the game changes, and a true dual-threat like Fields — in the image of Cam Newton — provides a threat like no other.
Smart took the blame for Georgia’s shortcomings inside of the Florida 10-yard line during the pivotal win over the Gators on Saturday in Jacksonville.
The Bulldogs generated three field goals on three trips inside of the Florida 10, getting stopped on a notable goal-line stand that will be talked about for years.
Had a Georgia football team ever been stopped on six run plays from the 1-yard line in the same series?
Somewhere, Herschel Walker, Garrison Hearst, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, (add your other UGA favorite here) and Todd Gurley were groaning.
Six times, Georgia ran the football from inside of the Gators’ 1-yard line in the third quarter, two extra cracks coming compliments of a Gators’ pass interference all and an offsides.
Six times, the Bulldogs were stopped from the 1.
Three carries up the gut for Elijah Holyfield netted nothing, two QB sneaks for Jake Fromm failed to gain and a D’Andre Swift outside run lost a yard.
“We have to be physical to get a yard when we have to and we did not do that today,” Smart said. “It’s absolutely uncalled for and we are going to correct that.”
A championship could be riding on it. The No. 6-ranked Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1 SEC) play at No. 11-ranked Kentucky (7-1, 5-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday with the SEC East Division on the line.
Smart joked at his press conference that, “We’ve just got to score from further out.”
Or maybe Georgia just needs to put Fields in the shot gun set and let the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder run or pass, much like Florida used Tim Tebow his freshman season.
Smart has made it clear that Fields is in no way, shape or form a “package” quarterback — he’s learning to operate the same offense as Fromm.
But Georgia experimented with Fields near the goal line earlier this season.
Fields entered the Missouri game in the second quarter on a first-and-goal from the Tigers’ 7-yard line and carried for 3 yards on what appeared to be a run-pass option. Fromm returned and threw two incomplete passes from the 4, leading to a field goal in a 43-29 win over the Tigers in September.
Later in that same game, Brian Herrian was stopped on a fourth-and-1 and Holyfield was dropped for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1, telltale signs that UGA could have a short-yardage issue.
When Smart talked about the Bulldogs “Wildcat” package in August, he mentioned Hoyfield, Swift, Herrien, Demetris Robertson, Mecole Hardman and James Cook.
Fields was not part of the conversation.
But the reality is that having a big, athletic player who can run the ball and throw it — like Fields, and like Tebow, like Newton — presents much more of a threat.
Six UGA players have 10 carries or more this season, and of those six, Fields has the highest average-yards-per-carry average at 7.6.
“Here’s what happens when you put Fields in, immediately your run game goes from good to great,” College Football Hall of Fame nominee David Pollack said Friday. “Because when you stick that ball in there on the zone read, that defensive end is going oh crap, I can’t let 6-foot-3, 235 pounds outside me getting downhill.
“Fields is a 240-pound grown up, he’s an adult, he eats at the big boy table.”
But on Saturday Fields stayed on the sideline and didn’t play a snap for the first time this season, even while 210 pound running backs were getting stuffed by the Florida defensive front.
Tebow, who was every bit as celebrated and highly regarded as a quarterback recruit as Fields, was asked how he handled the concept of being a “package” quarterback his freshman season with Chris Leak leading the Gators’ offense:
“I wanted to do whatever I could to help the team, and I wanted to improve the team and make the team better, and you never knew what was going to happen. There might be some games where you wouldn’t have as much of an impact on a game … you wouldn’t know how that was gong to go.
For me it was about earning respect, helping my teammates and then given the opportunity, I wanted to change the game. If that was on a counter play, and a safety gets in my way, I’m trying to impose my will to change the culture of our team. If I had one play, I’m going to make the most of it. If I had 20, I’d make the most of that. My mentality is I’m going to earn every snap I get, and I’m going to earn the next one, and coach is going to have to put me back out here.
That was my mentality because of trying to impact the game, and that’s something that Justin should try to have. I feel like he has that confidence to, when he gets a play, listen, if you have one play and it’s a running play, and you make something happen, you know what, Kirby will say go back in there, and as a player you have to have that confidence in you and you have to be able to make the people around you better, and I think that’s the most important trait that a quarterback can have.”
Times have changed, recruits are much bigger celebrities than ever, and thus they feel more pressure to maintain a certain image.
Smart respected Fields so much that he didn’t name a starting quarterback or issue a depth chart before the opening game, even though it was obvious that Fromm was the starter.
Smart has maintained the quarterback competition is ongoing and the playing time is fluid, and that he’s committed to playing the QB that gives the Bulldogs the best chance to win from one snap to another.
“They both want to do what’s best for the team, (and) they both want to give us a chance to win football games,” Smart said of his quarterbacks in August. “I think the game will dictate how we get to play those guys, I don’t know how that is going to come out, but there’s no plan, ‘this is what’s going to happen, this is when he’s going to play.’ We’re not into that. We’re going to kind of see how the game goes.
“I don’t see those two as that different. I think you guys see Jake and Justin a lot different than maybe we do. We run the same offense with both those guys right now … can Justin take off running better? Can he run some run stuff, yeah, he can.”
It could be time for Justin to “run some stuff” in short-yardage situations and in a goal-line package, like Tebow did as a freshman on a Florida national championship team.
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