Kirby Smart clear, nothing controversial about Georgia quarterback situation
ATHENS — There’s no quarterback controversy at Georgia, on staff or in the locker room.
The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs (2-0) do, however, have a quarterback situation entering into their 7:15 p.m. game against Middle Tennessee at Sanford Stadium (TV: ESPN2, Radio: WSB 95.5 FM, 750 AM) on Saturday.
Sophomore Jake Fromm won the quarterback competition in the offseason over true freshman Justin Fields.
Fromm, who led Georgia to an SEC title and national championship game appearance as a true freshman last season, is off to an efficient start in 2018.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, however, wants to make sure the Bulldogs have two capable quarterbacks ready at all times, so getting Fields into games remains a priority.
“I think the important thing for Justin [Fields] is that he continues to improve,” Smart said at his Monday press conference. “He’s worked hard, and we want him to continue to improve as a player, and that’s what’s going to make our team better. And that’s what is important for his future to continue to do that.
“I would love to get him an opportunity to get into this game.”
Smart has been consistent in his stance on getting Fields into games. Georgia’s quarterback situation is fluid, which leaves the door open for the true freshman to see playing time each week.
Fields played four series in the 45-0 season-opening win against Austin Peay and two series in the 41-17 victory at South Carolina.
Fields was 7-of-8 passing for 63 yards and a touchdown against Austin Peay, but he also took off running three of his first five snaps, taking hits that had the staff holding its collective breath.
Georgia is planning on another 15-game season, so the Bulldogs have cautioned their quarterbacks about being smart on run plays.
Fields was 1-of-1 passing for 8 yards against the Gamecocks, converting a third-and-3 pass to Trey Blount in the final minutes.
Georgia was able to run the ball 13 of 14 times on the game’s final drive, which ended with Fields taking a knee at the South Carolina 17 as time expired.
Smart likely realizes it’s a delicate balance between keeping his team in sync with its proven and experienced quarterback, while also developing Fields and providing him adequate playing time.
Georgia’s quarterback competition doesn’t have the look of what has happened at Alabama, where the former starter has been benched, or at Clemson, which appears to have a much closer competition for playing time.
But more and more, coaches appear willing to play multiple quarterbacks, and Smart doesn’t see that trend changing.
“It’s become more and more of a trend because I think, A, guys have left more often now, and, B, guys get injured, because they’re spread and they’re running more,” Smart said on Monday.
“So you’ve got to protect the quarterback and have the ability to have two quarterbacks that can play.”
For that matter, Smart said, it’s important to have three quarterbacks on the roster. Georgia has only two scholarship quarterbacks after Jacob Eason transferred to Washington in February.
“I think it’s very important to have three quarterbacks on any roster, because when you don’t have three, you’re a play away all the time,” Smart said. “And I think there’s no better evidence than in the NFL, because those guys usually carry three on the roster and they have emergency guys.”
Freshman walk-on Matthew Downing is the Bulldogs No. 3 quarterback at the moment.
Fromm is the clear-cut No. 1, and the Bulldogs defensive players support the decision as much as their offensive teammates and coaches.
“Going against Jake Fromm in practice, he’s a phenomenal guy,” junior defensive tackle Julian Rochester said, “makes it easier on Saturdays for the whole defense.”
Senior defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter agreed.
The boy is a playmaker, he’s a really great student of the game, he knows defenses left and right, just like he knows the offense, he knows what to call, he knows what to check to,” Ledbetter said. “It’s hard to beat a player who knows everything going on around the whole game. He handles situations so well, you would never think the guy is a guru out there.
“I’m just glad to have him on our team, and glad to have him on our offense as the leader.”