NASHVILLE, Tenn. – There’s certainty now. Certainty about the direction of the program under Kirby Smart. Certainty about a team that in the past has been prone to playing down to the level of some opponents (31-3, 41-0, 45-14 … who are these guys?). Certainty about the potential of this team and this season.
“This is what we came to Georgia for,” Sony Michel said.
There’s also certainty about this: Who’s going to start at quarterback.
Smart wouldn’t declare a starter for the rest of the season after Saturday’s 45-14 dismembering of Vanderbilt. He didn’t have to. What was it the coach said after last week’s game at Tennessee?
“Read between the lines,” he said to a follow-up question after boasting that he tells the media what it wants to hear and the players the truth.
Jacob Eason was expected to play more extensively than he did against Vanderbilt, but he didn’t enter until 5 minutes into the fourth quarter of a lopsided game.
“It’s a feel thing,” Smart said.
In other words, that wasn’t the plan. Jake Fromm started, and the coach chose to keep a good thing going. Because when things go well, coaches don’t even change socks, let alone quarterbacks.
Neither quarterback spoke after the game because Smart doesn’t grant media access to freshmen (Fromm), and this wasn’t the game where anybody with a notepad or camera was going to get near Eason. (Yes, he was requested). But when the game ended, when Georgia improved to 6-0 for the first time since 2005 and most of the team celebrated with thousands of Georgia fans along one side of Vanderbilt Stadium, Eason hung around only briefly, then walked off the field and into the stadium tunnel with his helmet on.
Reading between the lines: This is Fromm’s team.
He’s not the star. He’s not nearly the star. He doesn’t have to be the star (Georgia won its past two games 96-14 with Fromm throwing for 85 and 102 yards).
The stars are the tailbacks: Nick Chubb (138 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Sony Michel (150 yards, 1 TD), who paced a 423-yard rushing attack. (Paul Johnson may sue for copyright infringement).
The stars are on a defense that, while it didn’t play its best game against Vanderbilt, has allowed only 60 points halfway through the regular season.
The stars in this game were up front: The offensive line flattened Vanderbilt’s defensive front.
“There were holes everywhere,” Chubb said.
At some point this season, it’s likely Georgia will need a quarterback to win the game. Fromm may not be at that point yet, but he’s getting there.
Fromm did nothing more than hand off seven times on Georgia’s first touchdown drive (7 plays, 83 yards in runs). But in the second quarter, he faced pressure on third-and-14, stayed calm and hooked up with Terry Godwin for a 23-yard gain and a first down, leading to a touchdown.
On the first drive of the second half, with Georgia running a rapid no-huddle offense and Vandy’s defense dazed and confused, the Commodores bit on play-action and Fromm threw a 47-yard strike to Godwin down the middle of the field for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead.
Will it be so easy against Florida or Auburn or, should they make it that far, Alabama in the SEC title game?
No. But Fromm has earned the starting job now, and Eason must watch from the sideline. He started and played only a handful of snaps in the season opener against Appalachian State, then suffered a knee injury and has been Wally Pipp’d ever since.
Smart on Fromm: “He’s grown as a player. He’s functioning in the offense really well. He likes the up-tempo stuff. The touchdown pass was really good. It actually wasn’t designed to go to Terry, it was supposed to go to Mecole [Hardman], and he fell down. Jake made a good throw. He continues to get better and that’s important for our team.”
There’s no way to know what Eason will do. He may assess how the rest of the season goes, then may come back or decide to transfer. Another layer to this was added Friday when the Bulldogs received a verbal commitment from the nation’s No. 1 recruit, Harrison’s Justin Fields.
Yes, another “five-star” quarterback.
Eason wore a backwards baseball hat and headphones for most of the game. When he entered in the fourth quarter, the score was 45-7. He played two possessions. The first was brief and painful: He was crushed by a blind-side sack on the first down and fumbled, leading to a Vanderbilt touchdown. On the second drive, he went 3-for-3 as the Dogs ran out the clock.
Smart would rather not field quarterback questions. He wants the focus on the offensive line and the 6-0 start (last achieved by Georgia in the 2005 SEC title season).
So a few sparks flew off his forehead in the postgame (partially for effect) after the third Fromm-Eason question, which was merely: Are you ready to name a permanent starting quarterback?
“You guys want to make a great story out of that,” he said. “You know what the story ought to be? Georgia’s O-line finishes Vanderbilt off. Can we talk about that? But I know y’all need a story. You need controversy, and that’s not where this team’s going because the men in that locker room, they’re controlling that message. Both those quarterbacks are good players.”
He also took the blame for the sack/fumble, saying, “I wanted the kid to come in and be able to throw the ball, and I called that play and put him in a bad situation.”
The only situation that matters is this: Georgia is 6-0 and Fromm has given no reason to make a change at quarterback. Neither of those two things would have been expected coming into the season.