ATHENS — John Atkins and Roquan Smith are each on Georgia’s punt team. So they found themselves on alert a lot in the first half against Missouri on Saturday.
Turns out, though, it was just a bunch of false alarms. The Bulldogs never needed to punt.
“We were getting together over there on the sideline and everybody was yelling ‘punt alert, punt alert!’ said Smith, the Bulldogs’ star inside linebacker. “Next thing you know it’s first down again and we’d go sit back down and get more Gatorade.”
Added Atkins: “I was up on punt, ready to go in. Then he’d complete another pass and I’d just go sit down and get some more water.”
The “he” to whom Atkins is referring is Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm. He’s a freshman, a starter by default and now the Bulldogs’ undisputed leader based on his performance.
And as far as performances are concerned, Fromm has not had one better than he put on display Saturday night in Georgia’s 53-28 victory over Missouri. That was particularly true in the first half to which Atkins and Smith are referring.
The Bulldogs found themselves in third-and-long situations constantly in the first two quarters of Saturday’s contest. But every time they did, Fromm would bail them out with a pinpoint pass for first-down yardage.
By halftime the Bulldogs were 9-of-11 on third-down conversions. They never punted but settled for two field goals. The freshman from Warner Robins had a season-best 250 yards passing by halftime and 326 for the game. He threw for two touchdowns and ran another one in, something we’re becoming accustomed to with three rushing TDs on the season.
On a night when Georgia desperately needed strong play from the quarterback position, the freshman was spot on.
“I’m seeing a little more confidence in him,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after the game. “He’s making good decisions. He understands the game. He knows where to go with the ball. He sees coverages well. He made one poor decision, but quarterbacks are going to do that. Hopefully he learns from it. He’s getting better as a player.”
Fromm threw an interception on the Bulldogs’ second offensive possession of the night. Missouri’s Cale Garrett returned it 21 yards to the Georgia 5 and the Tigers would score two plays later.
Fromm essentially didn’t make a mistake again. The Bulldogs rolled on to gain 696 yards, the second-most in school history. Georgia had 407 yards offense by halftime, with 250 of it coming from Fromm’s arm.
He also never came out of the game.
Even though the Bulldogs led by 25 points in the fourth quarter, they never asked Jacob Eason to come in the game. Fromm closed it out with a kneel in the victory formation on Missouri’s 28-yard line as time expired.
And with that, you can dispense with any notion that Georgia is a two-quarterback team. Most of us have anyway, but that just validated everything we thought.
The 2017 Bulldogs are now Jake Fromm’s team. That’s evident in everything his teammates have to say about him.
“Way before he was even a starter I knew he was a natural-born leader,” Smith said. “The first day he got here, he was calling everything, watching film, he was like a veteran in the spring. So I knew he could do things like that. I knew he was going to be an excellent guy on and off the field.”
Receiver Mecole Hardman had his best night as a Bulldog. He caught two passes for 71 yards and scored two touchdowns, one a 35-yard run and the other on a 59-yard catch.
He, too, was marveling at Georgia’s young quarterback.
“Jake showed he can throw the ball up and down the field,” Hardman said. “He had great poise, even after they threw two deep balls on us. We came back and answered. He showed how poised he can be back there in the pocket.”
This is not a Fromm versus Eason battle anymore. This a quarterback depth chart without any “ORs” between the first and third spots. If it wasn’t clear before it was infinitely clear Saturday night as the Bulldogs reached the bye week still undefeated with their most lofty goals still intact.
Eason hasn’t done one thing wrong; he simply got hurt. But that opened the door for Fromm and he has walked through with nary a stumble.
How Eason handles that going forward is a story for some day after the season. Right now Jake Fromm is the leader of this team, and he’s got a bunch of grizzled veterans that are more than willing to follow him.
“The opportunity presented itself and he’s just taking full advantage of it,” Smith said of Fromm. “I knew he was competitive back in the summer. We’d get together and do 7-on-7 and if he’d make a mistake he’d want to know what we were in and what we were doing. It’s amazing to have a guy like that and the way he goes about things.
Atkins, six years removed from high school, marvels at the kid who has been on UGA’s campus barely 10 months.
“He don’t play like a freshman to me,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t look at him as a freshman anymore. He’s got a few games under his belt now. He really knows the game.”
And now we all know without a doubt who is Georgia’s quarterback.