ATLANTA — First to the most important news: Justin Fields wasn’t wishy-washy about it. He’s coming back to play for Georgia next year.
At least that’s what the freshman quarterback said in the moments after the Bulldogs’ excruciating 35-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship. Fields played a relatively big part in that, you may have heard.
In his first interview since arriving at UGA as an early enrollee, Fields was asked if he was definitely going to come back next season and compete with Jake Fromm for playing time at quarterback.
“Yes, sir,” Fields said. “I love this team. That’s the plan.”
The rest of the conversation with Fields was about the events of Saturday night. Fields played mostly a bit part on Georgia’s offense, as he has all season. He came in three different times on the first play of three different series. He ran the ball twice for a total of 4 yards and threw one incompletion.
Fields would get one other carry in the game, but it didn’t come on offense. That came as the up back on a fake punt. It was an ill-advised one on fourth-and-11 at the 50, and it was actually meant to be a pass. But Fields’ target on the play who was supposed to be uncovered – D’Andre Swift – was covered. Somewhat panicked, Fields decided instead to run. He managed just 2 yards.
“We went over the look this week countless times,” Fields said. “The look was there but, it’s just when the ball is hiked, [the defensive back] went right to [Swift]. We couldn’t do anything about it.”
It was just another lesson in a long season full of a lot of them for Fields. That is not to say it was a disappointing one for him.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Fields set out this year to unseat Fromm as Georgia’s starting quarterback. He didn’t come close to achieving that objective. But that’s not to say his season was a failure. Far from it.
“I’m a competitor,” Fields said. “Everyone wishes they had more playing time, but it is what is. Coach Smart is my coach and I trust him and I think he knows what’s best.”
The true freshman from Kennesaw played in every game but one (against Florida). He dressed and traveled for every game. He had a role in the Bulldogs’ SEC Championship matchup with No. 1 Alabama.
Fields will head into the postseason and a likely Sugar Bowl berth with 266 yards rushing on 42 carries with 4 touchdowns and a 28-of-29 passing mark for 328 yards and 4 more scores. That’s a pretty good year’s work for a first-year college quarterback playing a backup role on an 11-2 team.
“I know God has bigger plans for me,” said Fields, an outspoken Christian like the starter Fromm. “So, I’m just going to keep getting better and trusting His plan for me.”
Fields was asked if there were any specific areas he was looking to improve on.
“Just continue to get more familiar with the playbook, keep watching film,” he said. “Just keep improving, body-wise, speed, everything, accuracy. Just getting better overall as a quarterback.”
But all that is down the road for Fields. Standing in the Georgia locker room at Mercedes-Benz Stadium surrounded by reporters, Fields mind was still fixed mostly on the devastation he’d just witnessed. Once again the Bulldogs blew a two-touchdown, second-half lead to Alabama and, as a result, their hopes for a second straight appearance in the College Football Playoffs had been dashed, more than likely.
“I felt like we were in control the whole time,” Fields said. “I felt like we controlled our destiny. We lost the game, they didn’t beat us. I think they know that. We just didn’t have the best second half. We just didn’t come through.”
Fields said he didn’t think that was because the Bulldogs let up.
“At halftime, nobody was satisfied,” he said. “The whole team was like, ‘We need to finish. We need to finish.’ Everybody knows what happened last year, so we just came all together and told each other we need to finish the game. ‘Fight harder.’”
In the end, Fields said he genuinely believes Saturday’s experience is going to make the team better, and him, too.
“It’s definitely shocking, but it’s nothing but motivation for this team,” Fields said. “We know we have areas to get better at and we’re going to keep working.”