NEW ORLEANS — Jake Fromm and Justin Fields aren’t buddies. Let’s go ahead and get that out the way. They don’t hate each other or anything like that. But they don’t hang out away from Georgia’s football complex and they don’t text back-and-forth on their off days.
If you were selecting a relationship option for them on Facebook, theirs would fall under “it’s complicated.” Primarily, it’s strictly business.
I share that with you because it’s my intention today to speak the truth on Georgia’s quarterback situation, not spin. The Bulldogs would have you believe Fromm and Fields are best buddies and everything is hunky-dory in the quarterback meeting room. It’s not. That’s obvious just by the fact that Fields is now exploring a transfer.
Fromm and Fields have, of course, waged an intense competition at the quarterback position that dates back to last January when the 5-star recruiting prospect Fields entered UGA as an early enrollee. That’s right about the time Fromm was leading the Bulldogs into overtime against Alabama in the National Championship Game.
Eleven months later, it’s safe to say that Fromm has won that competition, free and clear. That’s evidenced by the fact his snaps have gone up from the beginning of the season and Fields’ have gone down. And, of course, by Fields’ name being enter into the NCAA’s “transfer portal” 13 days ago.
In the meantime, Fields remains with the Bulldogs, continues to fill the role of backup quarterback and is in Georgia’s offensive plans for Tuesday’s Sugar Bowl matchup against No. 15 Texas. Allegedly.
Talk about awkward.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney touched on the subject of tension when he met with reporters for the second time this season at a Sugar Bowl press conference Sunday morning at the Downtown Marriott Convention Center.
“I think every room has competitive spirit to it,” he said Georgia’s quarterback meeting room. “You want them to be able to get along and understand and respect their teammates, which I think routinely they do. But that position, there’s only one of them walking out there on the field. So you can always feel that a little bit. That comes with it.”
At no time was the tension more intense than Week 8 of the season. That was after Georgia made its ill-fated trip to Baton Rouge to take on LSU. You’ll recall that the Bulldogs, ranked No. 2 at the time, lost to the 13th-ranked Tigers 36-16.
You might also recall that Fromm turned in the worst performance of his career that day (16 of 34 passing, 209 yards, 1 TD, 2 interceptions). Meanwhile, Fields played five plays. He had one run for three yards and four handoffs.
After that game came a lot of grousing, and not just about the quarterbacks. Offensive players — and their parents — complained about their number of touches. Back in Athens, Fields’ parents reportedly met with coach Kirby Smart.
Smart himself was the target of criticism that week, both for not inserting Fields when Fromm was struggling and for an ill-fated and poorly-conceived fake field goal that contributed Georgia’s demise.
But Smart’s response to the offensive complaints wasn’t necessarily what was expected. After the bye week, Fromm took every snap of the game against Florida. Georgia also pared down its rotations in the backfield and at wide receiver. Fromm went 17-of-24 passing for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns and the Bulldogs piled up 429 yards offense on the way to a 36-17 win.
And so it went thereafter. The Bulldogs averaged 41.6 points the rest of the way and clinched the SEC’s Eastern Division championship.
“We definitely came together as a team,” Fromm said of the days following the LSU game. “We had a players-only team meeting. Guys spoke their minds; I spoke my mind. I think the biggest part of that was ‘let’s go to work,’ and I think guys bought into that. That’s what we did during the bye week and that’s what we’ve intended to do every week since then.”
This is where Georgia needs to be commended. The Bulldogs’ didn’t let the season slide off the rails at that point. Smart didn’t let parents’ and players’ complaints sway his opinion on what was best for the team.
More importantly, Georgia’s locker room stayed united. There is nothing that can be more divisive to a team than a quarterback controversy. The Bulldogs contend the competition between Fromm and Fields has been anything but.
“I think the fan base tried to make it that way, but it’s not internally with the team, not at all,” sophomore running back D’Andre Swift said. “We have two great quarterbacks and they both understand the roles that they have to play. Either one when called in knows their job and knows what they’re supposed to do. So, they’re ready when they get called.”
Said junior running back Elijah Holyfield: “I think if anything it has brought us closer together. We’re all good friends and we want to see everybody do well. So any time we can play more players we’re always happy about that. As long as it works, you know? We don’t care when Jake’s in or when Justin’s in. We just want to win.”
It really is remarkable what Georgia has done on offense this season, especially considering that it was accomplished after losing its four best players to the NFL in Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Isaiah Wynn and Javon Wims. The Bulldogs led the SEC in rushing (251.6 yards per game), were second to Alabama in scoring (39.2 ppg) and third in total offense (478.8 ypg).
“When you’re clicking around that 40‑points-a-game mark, you feel like you’re doing okay,” Chaney cracked.
As for Fromm, he has quietly put together one of the best seasons ever by a Georgia quarterback. His completion percentage of 68.4 and pass efficiency rating of 175.8 will both go down as school records unless they suffer a significant drop from what would have to be a horrific outing against Texas on Tuesday.
Here’s another impressive set of numbers for Fromm: A win over the Longhorns will make him 25-4 as Georgia’s quarterback of record (he did not start but played all but three series of the first game of his career).
We’re left to wonder whether Fromm’s performance was enhanced by the mere presence of Fields.
“Well, I definitely think competition anywhere is going to make you play better,” Fromm said. “Also, for me, it doesn’t matter who’s in that room, I’m going to try to be the best I can be, regardless. I’m always striving to be my best and make every throw at practice. But definitely both of us competed and did a great job of making each other show up at practice and want to be the best we could be. It definitely helps.”
The question now is what happens going forward. Smart insists he wants Fields to stay, even though the team has since signed two more quarterbacks and Fields’ family remains back in Atlanta weighing offers from dozens of schools. And Chaney said the Sugar Bowl game plan is no different than it has been all year.
If that’s the case, then Fields will be part of it. Generally, that has meant around a half-dozen snaps, usually only for a single play in any given series.
Fromm has shown he can perform well amid those interruptions. Frankly, we’re still waiting for Fields to perform accordingly.