Each week during the season, we will re-watch the most recent Georgia football game to gain more insight, share observations and just plain make sure we didn’t miss anything. This week, we re-watch Georgia’s 31-10 win over Appalachian State, and zero in on Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm, as well as the offensive line and defense – and what it all means for the showdown at Notre Dame.
Jacob Eason’s brief game
If Eason never had gotten hurt, it’s very possible, even probable, that he would have gone on to play well. He would have led Georgia to a comfortable win, and anybody judging him on his first three passes and two fruitless drives would have been laughed out of Sanford Stadium.
But Eason did get hurt, sustaining a knee injury. So as we go into the great unknown of the next few days, weeks and months, we are left to dissect those first 9 minutes of the game, and whether they reinforce red flags about Eason from last year, or whether we’re just being silly.
Eason’s first pass was in a three-wide set, and Eason went rather quickly to Jackson Harris for a negligible gain. Nick Chubb was actually alone on the left side, but Eason never looked at him. A pass to Chubb might not have gained much more than the quick pass to Harris, but Eason didn’t even look his way.
The second pass, the overthrow of Isaac Nauta on third down, appeared to be a case of Eason rushing his throw under pressure. Right guard Dyshon Sims couldn’t stop a linebacker who had blitzed off a stunt, and Eason threw off the wrong foot.
Eason didn’t attempt a pass on the second series, scrambling for no gain on third down. It looked like coverage was good, but Eason also appeared to misjudge where he should run, scrambling left when there was more room right. There were times last year Eason created a chance by scrambling to give his receivers time to get open. That time he didn’t.
Eason’s third pass, an overthrow to Javon Wims, was just one of those simple passes that Eason sailed on last year. It was why his completion percentage was only 55 percent. It was why the coaches emphasized improving that in the offseason. And it was why when the next quarterback came in, things changed.
First impression of Jake Fromm
Fromm’s immediate effect was accuracy. He hit Nauta in the numbers, then Mecole Hardman in the hands on an out pattern, and that’s why the offense started clicking. As coach Kirby Smart pointed out afterward, it’s not like they put in a different tempo package.
The first really good run of the day also happened after Fromm entered the game on a 10-yard cut to the outside by Sony Michel. That was mainly a product of better blocking, but credit Fromm for running the play correctly — something you can’t take for granted from a freshman suddenly thrust into action.
Fromm’s most impressive pass of the night was a 25-yard strike down the middle to Wims late in the first quarter. Fromm stood strong in the pocket and hit Wims perfectly.
After the first touchdown drive, the camera caught Smart grabbing Fromm by the jersey and pushing him into the receiver’s huddle. Almost a message: “Hey, you’re the starter now, get with your guys.”
In the rush to anoint Fromm, remember a few plays.
On his first drive, he overthrew Michael Chigbu near the sideline, but if he had thrown it better, it would’ve been an interception. Fromm didn’t check the coverage before he threw the pass and didn’t see that the cornerback was right there.
The scoring drive that Fromm probably had the least to do with was the one that ended with his touchdown pass: The 34-yard TD to Wims was his only completion of the drive, and Fromm shouldn’t have thrown it. It was into triple coverage, and Wims saved the play with the leap-and-snatch. It was the play of the game, I’d say.
Fromm got clocked on the play, so he deserves credit for his toughness. Hard to tell a quarterback after the fact that he should have done something other than throw it, but he got lucky on that one.
In fact, Fromm got lucky again on the next drive. He rushed a pass and heaved the ball to the right side for Terry Godwin, who would have been wide open had the throw been delivered on time and on target. But there was a pass interference call, which set up another touchdown run.
Sometimes lucky is part of someone’s aura. Sometimes it’s just luck.
A key point about Jake Fromm-Jacob Eason
The takeaway of many people was the offense moved not just better, but quicker, with Fromm. Well, there was a reason for that.
When Eason was in the game, Georgia averaged 24 seconds between plays, by my count. (Not counting first downs.).
The tempo immediately picked up on the drive that Fromm entered, but mainly because of completions. The time between plays after completions averaged 11 seconds on that drive. But there were also two incompletions on that drive, and the next plays then took 25 and 32 seconds, respectively.
The next few drives with Fromm in the game mirrored that. A good play tended to lead to a quick play, while an incompletion led to the team regrouping and taking longer to get the next play in.
The point: Georgia’s tempo only seemed faster with Fromm because he was completing passes. But Fromm did complete those passes, leading to that quick tempo, while Eason did not.
Georgia’s offense, in general
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney kept it simple, especially after the Eason injury. Eason did operate out of the shotgun, and there were some diverse sets, but the play calling wasn’t elaborate. That’s understandable, given the opponent. You have to imagine that if the game had been uncomfortably close in the second half, we might have seen more interesting plays.
You also have to imagine that some deep strikes were planned for Eason. Then he left, and the play script probably shrunk about 50 percent with Fromm.
So what to think of Chaney’s play calling this year? Well, let’s wait a week.
Similarly, this game didn’t answer many questions on the offensive line. The line didn’t dominate, but it didn’t get manhandled either. The play improved as the game went on. Was that a good sign, or did Appalachian State’s defense just wear down?
Georgia couldn’t just push back the line on every run, which isn’t encouraging. But Solomon Kindley’s absence could have hurt that. Appalachian State coming away with six tackles for loss in the game isn’t an encouraging sign either.
Blocking will have to improve: On the first carry of the game, when Chubb was dropped for a big loss, the line did hold, with no defenders at or beyond the line of scrimmage. But no one picked up strong safety A.J. Howard, who made the initial hit, and then cornerback Clifton Duck made the tackle for a 3-yard loss.
The pass blocking also could’ve been better. There was only 1 sack for a 1-yard loss, but Eason had to scramble and Fromm had to get rid of the ball while hit.
Nothing major stuck out about Andrew Thomas in his college debut, though it bears noting that he stayed in there until the fourth quarter, when Ben Cleveland and other reserves entered. Kendall Baker was the sixth man on Saturday, coming in at both guard spots, first for Dyshon Sims and then Pat Allen. The difference in the lineups, good or bad, wasn’t discernible.
But the second half, especially the third quarter, was encouraging. On their first drive, the Bulldogs just handed the ball to Chubb and Michel over and over. The offense was able to pound it downfield, though it stalled inside the 10. The run also dominated the next drive, sandwiched around the long fourth-down Fromm-to-Wims completion.
We harped last year on how the blocking was better when Christian Payne played. We’ll harp again. Payne wasn’t in the game much as a classic fullback in the I-formation, but he was when Chubb sprung up the middle in for his 8-yard touchdown in the third quarter. And earlier in the game, at the goal-line in the first quarter, Payne wasn’t in the game when Georgia gave the ball to Chubb, and he was stopped. Then Payne went in, and though his block didn’t spring Chubb, a push from the line did get him in.
Appalachian State’s few big gains mostly came when opening up the field and getting the balls to players in space, or having quarterback Taylor Lamb run the ball. On Lamb’s 32-yard run on the second drive, too many defenders bought on an inside fake. That’s a play Notre Dame, with a faster quarterback, will try to replicate. There also was a 23-yard pass out of the backfield that appeared to be a designed dump-off, spreading the field and getting it to someone else in space.
App State couldn’t run the ball consistently because it couldn’t get a consistent push. Not surprisingly, the challenge should be tougher for Georgia next week. Notre Dame’s offensive line returns four starters with a combined 75 career starts, and they come in at an average of 21 pounds per player heavier than Appalachian State:
LT Mike McGlinchey … 6-8, 320
LG Quentin Nelson … 6-5, 330
C Sam Mustipher … 6-2, 305
RG Alex Bars …. 6-6, 310
RT Tommy Kraemer …. 6-5, 310
LT Victor Johnson …. 6-5, 290
LG Tobias Edge-Campbell … 6-2, 294
C Noah Hannon …. 6-2, 260
RG Colby Gossett …. 6-6, 320
RT Beau Nunn …. 6-4, 306
Cornerback Aaron Davis, who left the game with an ongoing hamstring injury, showed on Appalachian State’s first drive why the Bulldogs need him back. Davis snuffed out a swing pass attempt on third-and-6 by recognizing the play, then shaking off his blocking receiver to come up and make the tackle. That’s something an experienced senior has seen a lot, and as bright a future as Tyrique McGhee, Deangelo Gibbs or Ameer Speed might have, it’s fraught with risks to have them out there learning on the fly.
Re-watching J.R. Reed’s big sack on the second drive — which pretty much ended all hopes for App State on its best drive of the first three quarters — we saw a great job by Reed to push away his blocker and go after the quarterback. That was an assertive play for someone playing his first game for Georgia.
Something I noticed during pass plays is that Georgia’s linebackers stayed very disciplined, holding to their lanes, obviously trying to seal off Lamb’s scrambling ability. It worked, as Lamb’s rushing yardage mainly came from designed keepers.
Freshman Richard LeCounte seemed to have a solid debut. Though he drew Smart’s wrath a couple times, possibly for extracurricular chatter, LeCounte stayed on the field awhile, including in the fourth quarter. In fact, when Lamb scrambled up the middle for his 20-yard touchdown, against a defense full of reserves, LeCounte was the only one who almost snuffed it out, racing across to grab Lamb, but it was too late.
Summation: Georgia’s first-team defense played very effectively, but on re-watch, there are things that Notre Dame could exploit — mainly faster and more athletic players getting the ball in space and racking up yardage. And Smart, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and company doubtlessly are aware of that. The secondary, largely untested in this game, could be vulnerable against bigger and faster receivers. And while Georgia’s front seven is really good, the matchup with Notre Dame is good-on-good.
- Chubb, who spoke in the preseason about feeling like his quickness is back, looked better taking angles and going around the edges.
- D’Andre Swift wasn’t eased in; he lined up in the slot on Georgia’s fifth play of the game. He could turn out to be this year’s Isaiah McKenzie in the sense of someone who offensive coordinator Jim Chaney pinpoints as a playmaker and finds way to get him the ball.
- It was a wee bit of a rough start for former coach Tommy Tuberville, who now is a color analyst for ESPN. In the first quarter, he referred to Sam “Coleman” when he clearly meant Pittman, and when he later got Pittman’s name right, Tuberville called him the offensive coordinator instead of offensive line coach. (Soon after you could hear Tuberville saying, “OK … OK,” on air, and it’s a good guess someone in his ear was reminding him that the coordinator is Chaney.) Tuberville also referred to Davin Bellamy as “David.” The second time Tuberville referred to “David” Bellamy, play-by-play man Mike Patrick followed up by referring to him as the leading tackler on last year’s defense, apparently mistaking him for Roquan Smith. (On a side note, I’d hate for my various typos to be on full display. Patrick historically has been one of the best, and Tuberville might just need to work through some jitters.)
- Tuberville was a bit tough on Lamont Gaillard in the first quarter, saying the junior “has no experience. That might be one of their weak points early in the season.” We’ll see how Gaillard adjusts at center, but he did start every game last year at right guard.
- Interestingly, perhaps only to me, Tuberville pointed out that “Georgia was behind in facilities, but is now catching up,” adding that Georgia is “now throwing in its hat to try to win championships.” Guess Tubby’s been reading this site.
This game didn’t move the needle too much on what to expect this season for Georgia, other than the little matter of trying to predict who will be the quarterback. And even then, it’s debatable whether Eason, if he is out a while, will be sorely missed, or if going to Fromm is a blessing in disguise. There’s not enough evidence either way right now, just as there isn’t on whether Georgia’s offensive line is improved, or how good the defense can be. More definitive answers will have to wait a week. At least a week.