How the Georgia football quarterback position got to rock bottom
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How the Georgia football quarterback position hit rock bottom
Georgia clearly has a problem at the quarterback position. The performance against Florida pretty clearly demonstrated that as Kyle Trask threw for 474 yards and four touchdowns. Georgia’s two quarterbacks had just 112 passing yards and tossed three interceptions.
So how did Georgia get here? This is a program that has signed or landed three quarterbacks who were 5-star prospects and another who was pegged as a first-round draft pick upon his arrival at Georgia.
It has also had three different offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches involved as well. The Bulldogs have tried playing freshman quarterbacks and they’ve had a three-year starter at the position. The Bulldogs have had multiple 5-star quarterbacks serve as back-ups and it had a high-profile transfer elect to leave the program before he took a snap in a game, even though it seemed clear from the outside that he was going to be the starter.
And yet for all that talent, none of it has been on display for the Bulldogs this season. Two of those mentioned above are riding the bench for NFL teams. Another is training for the 2021 NFL Draft. One is playing for Georgia, though he’s yet to take a meaningful snap.
The best of those quarterbacks mentioned above is a Heisman Trophy front-runner. He’s just doing so for Ohio State this year.
While Georgia so far this season has bounced between a guy no other Power 5 program wanted coming out of the JUCO ranks and another who Ohio State passed on when it could get its current quarterback.
Georgia hit rock bottom at the quarterback position against Florida. So how did the Bulldogs get here and who might be the quarterback to help bounce back starting this week against Missouri?
Jacob Eason, Kirby Smart’s first big win
Dec. 15, 2015: Jacob Eason reaffirms his commitment to Georgia. The 5-star quarterback publicity considered the Florida Gators after Smart replaced Mark Richt, but Georgia’s new coach did enough to convince Eason that Georgia was the best place for his future.
March 3, 2016: Before coaching his first career game or seeing Eason play in his, Georgia landed quarterback Jake Fromm as a part of the 2017 recruiting class. He had been committed to Alabama when Smart was still the defensive coordinator at Alabama and that relationship played a big reason why Fromm ended up picking Georgia.
Officially a Dawg!! Feels good to be home!!!⚫️🔴🐶 pic.twitter.com/zvc6zuGEd9
— JakefromStateFromm (@FrommJake) March 3, 2016
Sept. 3, 2016: In Smart’s first career game as Georgia’s head coach, he goes with Greyson Lambert as the starting quarterback against North Carolina. Eason ends up playing in the game, completing 8 of his 12 pass attempts for 131 yards and a touchdown. Lambert ultimately finishes the game, which Georgia wins 33-24.
Sept. 10, 2016: Eason makes his first career start against Nicholls State. It does not go as well as the North Carolina win, as he completes 11 of his 20 passes for 204 yards a touchdown and an interception. The Bulldogs go 8-5 in Smart’s first year, ending the season with a win in the Liberty Bowl.
Eason would go on to start every game for Georgia for the rest of the 2016 season. He completes 55 percent of his passes for 2,430 yards while tossing 16 touchdowns compared to eight interceptions.
January 2017: Fromm enrolls at Georgia as a member of the 2017 recruiting class. The quarterback was a key member in putting together the No. 3 class in the 2017 recruiting cycle, highlighted by the likes of Andrew Thomas, Richard LeCounte and D’Andre Swift.
April 22, 2017: Fromm and Eason both play in the Georgia spring game, with Fromm posting better numbers while working as the second-team quarterback. Eason completed 16 of his 36 passes for 316 yards a touchdown and an interception. Fromm went 14-of-23 for 277 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
June 6, 2017: Justin Fields de-commits from Penn State. At this point, he’s considered the No. 2 quarterback prospect in the class behind only Trevor Lawrence. Later that summer at the Elite 11 Finals, Fields performs so well he ends up surpassing Lawrence as the top quarterback prospect in the country.
— Justin Fields (@justnfields) June 7, 2017
At the time of the de-commitment Georgia is considered a major player in Fields’ recruitment. In a story on Fields’ de-commitment, DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell shared this quote from Fields on what made Georgia such an appealing option.
“The most surprising thing was telling me that I have a really good chance to play after Jacob Eason left just with my ability to run the ball and pass the ball. Just that dual-threat ability that I have,” Fields said.
Jake Fromm takes over, Justin Fields commits
Sept. 2, 2017: Eason starts the season-opener against Appalachian State but does not last long as he suffers a knee injury in the opening quarter. Fromm steps in and finishes the game, a 31-10 win.
Sept. 9, 2017: Fromm makes his first career start for Georgia on the road against Notre Dame. The freshman quarterback throws for only 141 yards on 16 of 29 passing attempts, but the Bulldogs do enough to squeak out a 20-19 win over Notre Dame. Eason would miss the next two games against Samford and Mississippi State, both Georgia wins.
Sept. 30, 2017: Eason dresses again but Fromm continues to start, this time on the road against Tennessee. Fromm completes just 7 of his 15 pass attempts for 84 yards. But Georgia demolishes the Volunteers 41-0. Fromm would go on to start every game for the rest of the season while taking every snap of consequence.
Oct. 6, 2017: Georgia lands the commitment of Fields. At the time he is the No. 1 prospect in the country. With Fields now running recruiting efforts, the Bulldogs go on to finish with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the 2018 recruiting cycle. It was the first time since 2010 that Alabama did not have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.
Jan. 8, 2018: Georgia falls to Alabama in the national championship game. Fromm throws for 232 passing yards and a touchdown, while throwing two interceptions. The Bulldogs lost in overtime after 41-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who replaced an ineffective Jalen Hurts at halftime.
Jan. 12, 2018: Eason announces that he is transferring from Georgia. He ultimately ends up at Washington. He sits out the 2018 season before starting every game for Washington during the 2019 season. He throws for 3,132 yards 23 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in his lone season as a starter for the Huskies. Washington goes 8-5 and Eason ends up entering the 2020 NFL Draft where he is taken in the fourth round by the Indianapolis Colts.
That same week, Fields enrolls at Georgia. Eason never started a game for Georgia after his knee injury in the opening game of the 2017 season.
Mar. 20, 2018: James Coley becomes Georgia’s quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator. He previously worked as the wide receivers coach. Jim Chaney is still the offensive coordinator and also becomes the tight ends coach. Chaney had served as the offensive coordinator for the first two years of Smart’s time as the Georgia head coach. Chaney still calls plays for Georgia.
April 21, 2018: Fromm and Fields both take center stage for the 2018 G-Day game. Fromm works with the first team offense, completing 19 of his 38 pass attempts for 200 yards to go along with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Fields posted better numbers working with the second team, completing 18 of his 33 attempts for 207 yards. He also adds 44 rushing yards on the day as well.
June 15, 2018: Georgia lands a commitment from 4-star Mississippi athlete John Rhys Plumlee as a quarterback.
Sept. 1, 2018: Though Smart never publicly names a starter, Fromm opens the season as QB1 against Austin Peay. Fields plays as well, completing 7 of his 8 passing attempts for 63 yards and a touchdown. He also rushes for 33 yards.
Sept. 8, 2018: Fromm starts once again in Georgia’s SEC opener against South Carolina. The Bulldogs end up pulling away 41-17 against the Gamecocks, as Fromm throws for 194 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Fields throws just a single pass in the game. After the game, video shot by WSB-TV catches Fields clearly expressing his frustration at the lack of meaningful playing time.
Justin Fields.. clearly frustrated with his role at times this season.
Here.. following UGA’s 41-17 win over South Carolina..
(Explicit language⬇️) pic.twitter.com/ahNzsTmzg9
— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) December 18, 2018
The big decision and the beginning of the end of Fields
Oct. 13, 2018: Georgia enters the game against LSU ranked as the No. 2 team in the country with a 6-0 record on the season. And the Bulldogs just get smacked, losing 36-16 with LSU rolling up 275 rushing yards in the game.
Fromm meanwhile has his worst game of the season, completing 16 of his 36 pass attempts while also throwing two interceptions. Fields does take meaningful reps in the game and helps lead a scoring drive in the second half, but he throws only two passes in the game.
Georgia enters its off week with a 6-1 record but a number of questions about the quarterback situation and who will be the starter going into the Florida game still dominate the conversation. To that point, Fromm was 18-3 as a starter for the Bulldogs. But the contest with Florida would be against the No. 9 team in the country and Fields had the upside to at least consider more playing time.
Oct. 27, 2018: Georgia starts Fromm and sticks with him for the entire game. The Florida game is the only time during Georgia’s regular season in which Fields does not take a single snap.
Fromm also has his best game of the season to that point, throwing for 236 yards and three touchdowns as Georgia wins 36-17. The Bulldogs win the next week against Kentucky to lock up the SEC East for a second-consecutive season.
Nov. 17, 2018: In a blow-out against UMass, Fields has his most impressive showing yet. He throws for 121 yards while also adding 100 yards on the ground. He scores a total of three touchdowns, showing clear potential as dual-threat quarterback.
OH MY JUSTIN FIELDS. pic.twitter.com/EUcaycRBIf
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 17, 2018
Dec. 1, 2018: Georgia meets Alabama once again. Fromm has a far better statistical day than his first matchup against the Crimson Tide. He throws for 300 yards and three touchdowns in the game. But the Georgia defense could not stop Jalen Hurts late and Alabama ends up winning 35-28.
The Bulldogs scored zero points in the fourth quarter of the game. Fields did play in the game, throwing just a single pass. The freshman quarterback was on the field in the fourth quarter, including taking a snap on what was an ill-advised -at-best fake punt. Fields gains just two yards when he needed 11 on fourth down. Alabama scored the game-winning touchdown on the next drive.
This would end up being the final snap of Fields’ time in a Georgia uniform.
After the game, reporters spoke with Fields for the first time all season.
“I could have probably went some other places, but I feel like coming here has definitely made me a better QB,” Fields said after the game. “I feel like coming here like I didn’t want it to be handed to me like some other schools would have. So I came here, and I’m just going to keep working.”
Fields out, Two 2020 starters arrive on the same day
Dec. 17, 2018: Fields enters the transfer portal, allowing other schools the ability to talk and communicate with him. At this point, he is still on the Georgia team but it is unclear for how long that will be the case. Fields had thrown 328 yards on 39 passing attempts while adding 266 rushing yards in 12 games. He did not throw an interception in his freshman season while scoring a combined eight touchdowns.
Dec 19, 2018: On the start of the Early Signing Period for the 2019 recruiting cycle, Georgia adds a quarterback in D’Wan Mathis, who had been committed to Ohio State. Mathis let it be known that he did not feel reassured that the Buckeyes were not courting Fields as he was set to sign and knew the Bulldogs would have an opening.
That same day, Georgia lands another commitment from JUCO quarterback Stetson Bennett. He had served as a walk-on on the 2017 Georgia team before transferring to the JUCO ranks to earn more playing time. At the time, Bennett did not have any offers from any other Power 5 program.
It had also been known that Georgia asked commit Plumlee to a blueshirt, meaning he would not go on scholarship until August as opposed to when he arrived in the summer. With Fields transferring and Plumlee not arriving until the summer, Fromm was set to be the only Georgia scholarship quarterback on the roster for spring practice prior to landing Mathis and Bennett.
Though Plumlee did not sign with Georgia, at this point he was still committed to the program.
Also on the day, Smart was asked about the status of Fields when meeting with reporters.
“I don’t think there’s anything you can do (to convince him to stay),” Smart said. “We’ve been very open and honest that we would like him to stay. He’s worked really hard. He competed his tail off throughout the year and played a team role throughout the year.”
Jan. 1, 2019: Georgia ends the 2019 season with a 28-21 loss to Texas. Fields does not play in the game nor does he speak with reporters after the fact. Fromm completes 20 of his 34 pass attempts for 212 yards. He ends the season having thrown 30 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. With Fields pretty clearly on the way out at this point, Fromm is without a doubt Georgia’s starter entering the 2019 season.
Jan. 4, 2019: Fields announces that he is transferring to Ohio State. He released a statement on Twitter announcing the news.
Jeremiah 29:11… pic.twitter.com/7Z3j90Q305
— Justin Fields (@justnfields) January 5, 2019
Jan. 8, 2019: Chaney is hired to be the offensive coordinator at Tennessee. He received a large raise in the process going from a salary of $950,000 to making $1.5 million at Tennessee. Georgia replaces him with Coley, who would also remain the quarterback coach for Georgia.
“He has been an integral part of our team and program over these past three years and we are grateful for his contributions to the Bulldogs during that time,” Smart said in a statement following Chaney’s departure. “I’m sure this represents a new challenge that will be exciting for Jim and his family, and we wish him all the best.”
Feb. 4, 2019: Plumlee announces that he is de-committing from Georgia and commits to Ole Miss. As a freshman with the Rebels, he threw for 913 yards while adding 1,023 on the ground. He also scored 16 touchdowns on the season. Lane Kiffin replaced Matt Luke following the season and the new head coach has picked Matt Corral as his starter for this season.
Feb. 8, 2019: The NCAA announces that Fields will be eligble for the 2019 season and not have to sit a year as Eason had.
“Now that this matter is concluded, I would like to clarify some facts,” Fields said in a statement. “I have no regrets about my time at UGA and have no hard feelings for the school or football program. My overall experience at UGA was fully consistent with UGA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. My sister is a softball player at UGA. I am still close friends with many of my UGA teammates. A part of me will always be a Georgia Bulldogs fan.”
In his first year at Ohio State, Fields would score 51 touchdowns while throwing just three interceptions. He led the Buckeyes to an undefeated record in the regular season while also finishing third in Heisman Trophy voting. Ohio State lost to Clemson in the College Football Playoff in 2019. Fields currently has 11 touchdowns and no interceptions during the 2020 season for the No. 2 ranked Buckeyes.
It’s safe to say that he was pretty clearly the guy who should’ve been leading the Georgia team in both 2019 and 2020. Georgia’s quarterbacks this year have 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions, through that is in six games compared to the three Fields needed to accomplish such feats.
Mar. 3, 2019: Georgia lands its quarterback commitment for the 2020 recruiting class in Carson Beck. The Jacksonville, Fla., native was a one-time Alabama commit before ultimately pledging to Coley and the Bulldogs. At the time of his announcement, Beck was rated as the No. 4 quarterback in the class and a top-60 overall prospect.
But due to some struggles during his senior season at Mandarin High School, Beck ended as the No. 19 quarterback in the 247Sports Composite rankings for the cycle. He enrolled at Georgia in January and has not yet played in a game this season.
Apr. 20, 2019: Fromm, Mathis and Bennett all play key roles in Georgia’s spring game. Fromm completes 14 of his 29 pass attempts. He also threw an interception to Eric Stokes that was returned for a touchdown. Bennett played for both teams, while Mathis had the highlight of the game, though it came as he caught a touchdown pass from Matt Landers.
May 23, 2019: It is discovered that Mathis has a cyst on his brain and that he needs emergency brain surgery to have it removed. The surgery is successful and Mathis’ father thanks Georgia for what they did.
“I want everyone to know my son is OK and will be back better than ever because of Coach (Kirby) Smart and the University of Georgia medical staff and coaching staff,” Terence Mathis told DawgNation.
“The procedure today was a success, and I want to thank Coach Smart and Georgia for the way they treated my son and my family through all of this. Coach (James) Coley is at the hospital with my son right now, in fact.”
Due to the surgery, Mathis would miss the entire 2019 season, leaving Georgia with Fromm and Bennett as the only two scholarship quarterbacks.
Fromm flops down the stretch
Oct. 12, 2019: To this point in the season, Georgia was cruising. Fromm had yet to throw an interception while tossing seven touchdowns. The Bulldogs entered a home game against South Carolina with the No. 3 ranking. Then it all seemed to come undone.
Fromm was intercepted three times against South Carolina. The wide receivers struggled to get open. And the Bulldogs ultimately lost in double overtime to the unranked Gamecocks. The next week against Kentucky, things didn’t improve as Fromm threw for just 35 yards, due largely to poor weather conditions. The once-successful Georgia offense was struggling mightily.
Nov. 2, 2019: And then against Florida, things suddenly seemed to get much better. Fromm completed 20 of his 30 pass attempts for 279 yards and two touchdowns. He led Georgia to a 24-17 win over Florida, a game where the Bulldogs once again essentially locked up the SEC East crown.
After the game, Smart shared a very emotional moment with Fromm on the field.
Jake Fromm and Kirby Smart have a special relationship. pic.twitter.com/HeMeXzH7eO
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) November 2, 2019
But the Florida game proved to be an outlier. After the win, the junior quarterback had five straight games with a completion percentage under 50 percent. Things bottomed out against LSU once again, this time in the SEC Championship game. Fromm was intercepted twice in the 37-10 loss to LSU. He posted career-lows in yards per attempt and completion percentage while throwing 24 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Jan. 8, 2019: After leading Georgia to a 28-14 win the Sugar Bowl over Baylor, Fromm announces he is declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft. This left Georgia with a pretty gaping hole at the position.
Go Dawgs and God Bless pic.twitter.com/hz0qxJLumE
— JakefromStateFromm (@FrommJake) January 8, 2020
Fromm would be taken in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He has not yet taken a snap this year for the Bills.
New quarterbacks, New offensive coordinator
Jan. 11, 2020: Georgia does not wait long to find the apparent replacement for Fromm in graduate transfer Jamie Newman. At Wake Forest, Newman had thrown for 26 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions, while also adding six rushing touchdowns. His dual-threat capabilities excited many, leading them to bump up the outlook on Georgia going into the 2020 season.
— Jamie Newman (@jlmn12_) January 11, 2020
Newman would have just one year of eligibility at Georgia and the hope was that he would use it to improve the team and his draft stock.
Jan. 17, 2020: Not even a week after Newman’s arrival, Georgia goes out and brings in a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach into the program as it hires Todd Monken. He had previously served as the head coach at Southern Miss, while also working as an offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Monken ended up replacing Coley as both the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. Coley would end up at Texas A&M as the tight ends coach. He had nearly left for Texas A&M prior to the 2018 season, but ended up staying at Georgia and receiving a title and pay bump.
The addition of Monken seemed to signal that Smart was making a serious effort to update and modernize the Georgia offense.
Jan. 21, 2020: Just days after the addition of Monken, Georgia lands its quarterback for the 2021 cycle in Brock Vandagriff. He is a local product, as he grew up just outside of the Athens area in Bogart, Ga.
He is also the most hyped quarterback Georgia has landed since Fields, as Vandagriff rates as a 5-star quarterback. As of this writing, he is the No. 13 prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings and largely considered the future of the position for Georgia. But he can’t help the team at all this season, when the Bulldogs so badly need quarterback help.
March 13, 2020: Just days before the Bulldogs are set to start spring practice, it gets postponed and ultimately canceled due to COVID-19. This slows the development of the Georgia offense as it implements a new system under Monken.
May 28, 2020: Before Georgia even steps on a practice field, it adds another quarterback to the mix in JT Daniels. He announces that he is transferring to Georgia from USC. At the time of his commitment, it was not yet known if he would be eligble for the 2020 season or where he was in terms of recovering from his knee injury. It would later be learned Daniels had a second knee surgery in January of 2020 following surgery in September of 2019 on the same knee.
— JT Daniels (@jtdaniels06) May 28, 2020
July 13, 2020: Daniels is granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, allowing him to join Newman, Mathis, Beck and Bennett for the starting quarterback competition at Georgia.
Aug. 31, 2020: Georgia holds its first scrimmage of the fall season. Smart is asked about the quarterback battle and does not provide any clarity.
“I don’t think anyone has separated if that’s what you’re asking,” Smart said. “As far as the time table for that, I don’t have a time table for that. It’s got to happen.”
At this point, Smart said that all quarterbacks but Bennett got a series with the first-team offense. Daniels did so despite not yet being cleared for game action. Newman though is still widely considered to be the starter for the season-opener against Arkansas.
The opt-out and the aftershocks
Sept. 2, 2020: Newman sends shockwaves through the Georgia program and college football landscape as he announces that he will be opting out a little more than three weeks before the start of Georgia’s season.
“With much prayer and discussion with my family, I would like to announce that due to the uncertainties of this year amid a global pandemic I will officially opt-out of this football season to prepare for the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft,” Newman wrote.
Newman accepted an invite to the 2021 Senior Bowl this week, where he will be able to showcase his talents to NFL draft evaluators.
Smart was asked about Newman on Tuesday and said that he had not heard from the quarterback.
“We communicated obviously when he left and a couple times since then, but he hasn’t been with us,” Smart said. “I don’t know if he’s been with the players outside the building, but I haven’t seen Jamie here. I think he’s training.”
In the two scrimmages following Newman’s departure, Mathis emerges as QB1 with it becoming increasingly clear that Daniels will not be physically ready for the season-opener.
Sept. 26, 2020: Mathis earns his first career start against the Razorbacks and things go poorly. He leads the Bulldogs to zero points on their first six drives and was ultimately pulled for Bennett. Mathis goes 8-of-17 for 55 yards and an interception.
Bennett stabilizes the Georgia offense, as it goes on to win 37-10. He threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
“He gave us the juice we needed,” Smart said. “He’s a great competitor.”
Sept. 28, 2020: Smart begins his press conference before the Auburn game by publicly clearing Daniels for game action. He did travel with the team to Arkansas but did not take a snap in the game.
Oct. 17, 2020: Bennett goes on to start and win the next two games against Auburn and Tennessee. He scores 24 points in the first half for the Bulldogs against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
But the wheels start to come off for Georgia in the second half, as Bennett throws two interceptions after having thrown none in the first three games. Georgia is held scoreless in the second half and the Bulldogs fall 41-24, giving Georgia its first loss on the season.
“He’s not perfect. He’s learning. He’s growing up,” Smart said after the game. “He also made some good throws and made some plays. He even made some checks to put us in really good situations. Stetson’s just got to play within himself and allow people to help him around him. We’ve got to help him with the run game around him because we can’t throw the ball that many times and hope to be effective.”
Nov. 7, 2020: Bennett threw two more interceptions in a 14-3 win over Kentucky, adding further doubt to the quarterback situation at Georgia. Bennett helps the Bulldogs jump out to a 14-0 lead against the Gators. But as he threw a touchdown pass to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Bennett sprained the AC joint in his shoulder.
After the hit, Bennett’s performance suffered and the Bulldogs fell behind. His day was ended when he threw a third-quarter interception, his sixth in the last three games. He was replaced by Mathis in the game, though he did not play all that much better.
Against Florida, the two quarterbacks combine to go 9 of 29 for 112 yards and three interceptions. Georgia loses 44-28 to the Gators, dealing a significant blow to Georgia’s championship hopes.
Nov. 10, 2020: Smart tells reporters that Bennett has not thrown at practice in either of the past two days and that Daniels, Mathis and Beck have all taken reps with the first-team. At this point, Daniels has emerged as the favorite to start on Saturday against the Missouri Tigers.
“I think I’ve seen he’s got a quick release, I see that every day anyway, with us on scouts,” Smart said on Tuesday night. “He has good command and presence, meaning he understands the offense in terms of timing, communicating, snap counts, motions, all the things you want a quarterback to be able to do, he does a good job with that.”
If Daniels does start he’d be the third starter for the Georgia program this season. That was certainly not in the plans for Georgia at the beginning of 2020, nor did it look like the case when the Bulldogs had Fields on the roster.
With the Bulldogs set to bring in Vandagriff, he’d be the fourth 5-star high school quarterback Georgia will have added since Smart took over. Acquiring bodies and talent has never been an issue for Smart at the position.
It just often seems that the best talent leaves Athens before Smart either gets it on the field or helps said quarterback reach his full potential.
Maybe Daniels or Vandagriff can help lead Georgia out of this mess. Because if they’re given the opportunity, it’s hard to imagine they’d do much worse than the quarterbacks did against Florida.
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