Anyone wearing UGA colors at Sanford Stadium on Saturday had to be pleased and encouraged by the solid showing of freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who unexpectedly had to take the helm early in the game after starter Jacob Eason sprained his left knee.
And, it’s natural in college football to root for the backup QB, particularly when he’s an eye-catching talent like Fromm. As one Facebook meme so aptly showed, Fromm has turned the head of many fans.
But, the borderline glee that some of those Dawgs fans showed in the face of Eason’s injury, both at the game and on social media afterward, was disheartening.
Yes, I understand that many Fromm supporters who ardently had touted the young QB’s abilities from the day he committed to UGA felt the need for a bit of I-told-you-so after he led the Dawgs to a convincing win over Appalachian State.
Still, a bit of a reality check is in order: He’s a freshman, and first-year quarterbacks inevitably are limited in their knowledge of the playbook and must learn the hard way what they are doing wrong. That rule of thumb didn’t just apply to Eason’s up-and-down first year at Georgia.
Just as it was worth keeping in mind that Fromm’s proficient performance in last spring’s G-Day game was against the second-string defense, fans also should keep in mind that the App State defense, while good by mid-major standards, is not of Power 5-conference quality.
And, because of that, Fromm got away with staring down his intended receivers (a common problem with freshman QBs) and with lofting quite a few dying duck passes that likely would have been interceptions against Notre Dame or an SEC opponent.
Also, the vanilla offense Jim Chaney called most of the day against App State wasn’t as varied or challenging as what Georgia’s quarterback hopefully will be asked to run against higher-level opponents.
True, Eason wasn’t impressive during the two-thirds of a quarter he was in the game. He threw too high on 2 of his 3 passes, and his decision-making on the play where he got hurt was questionable. Instead of throwing the ball away, he tried to run for the sideline and ended up getting shoved illegally. (It’s also worth noting that, on the play where he was hurt, as Eason rolled out to his right, none of his receivers over on the left side of the field shifted over to give him a target.)
It wasn’t just Eason that got the Dawgs offense off to a slow start. Chaney’s play-calling seemed tentative, and the offensive line failed to open holes for the backs on what was nearly three straight three-and-outs (only a penalty for the late hit that injured Eason gave the Dawgs their first first-down of the game). There also were some typical first-game problems, like being flagged a couple of times for snap infractions.
Fortunately, the offense shifted gears after Fromm came in (the other players pulling together to protect a new QB no doubt being a factor in that). And, as the game wore on, App State’s defense wore down, opening up some gaping holes for Sony Michel and Nick Chubb where previously there had been none. But it wasn’t just tired defenders. Michel and Chubb are extremely talented, smart and tough runners; Chubb did a great job faking out a defender on one long third-quarter run.
As for the receivers, Javon Wims had a terrific day, with the touchdown play where he went up high to grab one of Fromm’s lazy floaters away from a defender and then twisted his body to get the ball across the goal line being particularly impressive. But, generally, the receiving corps didn’t look all that much improved over last year.
As for the rest of the Georgia team, the defensive front (considered the strength of the Dawgs) looked very good, but the secondary was a bit shaky at times — not surprising considering the lineup shuffle necessitated by Malkom Parrish’s foot injury. Red-zone defensive problems persisted, at least when the second- and third-string were in. The defense fell asleep on the App State quarterback’s keeper for a touchdown.
Special-teams play was drastically improved over last year, with kicker Rodrigo Blankenship looking definitely scholarship-worthy by putting 5 of his 6 kickoffs deep into (or out of) the end zone for a touchback. And Cameron Nizialek, a graduate transfer from Columbia, conjured up visions of Drew Butler with his 43.8 yard average punting. We’ll still have to wait and see whether the punt-return game has improved, as Georgia mostly chose to go with fair catches against the Mountaineers.
And the coaching was … good, not great. At times, Kirby Smart still seemed a bit too involved with the defense to keep track of his game-management responsibilities.
Now, back to those delusional fans who actually seemed happy that Eason was injured, clearing the way for their favorite, Fromm. Some of these folks were talking about Fromm being “the man” from now until the day they see Bulldogs recruiting target Justin Fields taking over. In their minds, Eason might as well transfer once his knee is better!
It baffles me that some fans actually seem to think it would be a good thing for the UGA program to play two straight seasons with a freshman taking the snaps (and a fourth consecutive year with a first-year starter at QB). That’s no way for a struggling offense to find its identity or build momentum.
As Eason supporters were quick to point out, Fromm doesn’t have nearly as strong an arm as their favorite, and Fromm still has many freshman mistakes ahead of him.
The fact is, Georgia needs both quarterbacks healthy and playing, if it is to improve on the 8-5 record from 2016.
About all the two sides can agree on is that they don’t want to see Brice Ramsey out there throwing any more bad passes into double coverage.
HOME OPENER, OFF THE FIELD
On an atypically balmy late-summer day in Athens, the season opener drew mostly thumbs up from fans — once they got into the stadium, that is.
Unless you were an early arrival, chances are you had to wait in line quite a while (as long as 30 minutes) to get in, but the delays at the gates generally weren’t due to the new clear-bag policy. Rather, the problem was those manning the gates having trouble, or not being familiar, with the scanners they were pointing at tickets.
Once inside, the offseason moaning about Sanford Stadium now offering Alabama-based barbecue seemed to be forgotten, as the line for Dreamland BBQ was quite long.
The restrooms in the north side concourse were much improved (though still too small and crowded). However, some of the speakers at the west end of the lower level weren’t working, and the canned music played between plays often was too loud, making it nearly impossible to hear the ref explaining a flag or even the P.A. announcer.
New wrinkles this season include a microphone-wielding hostess doing fan bits from the stands for the video board, and new championship banners on columns along Reed Plaza.
All in all, the Dawgs season debut at home rates at least one-and-a-half thumbs up. Now, on to South Bend and the Fighting Irish …