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Georgia coach Kirby Smart leads his team to the field for warmups before a recent game in Athens.

Has Kirby Smart earned the benefit of the doubt?

Cy Brown

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Kirby Smart, a QB battles and the benefit of the doubt

The return of Jacob Eason grows ever closer. On Tuesday, coach Kirby Smart described Eason as “day-to-day” in regard to when the sophomore can return to game action. It remains to be seen if Eason will be ready to play this weekend in Knoxville, but his return is coming soon. And when it comes, the inevitable question will arise: Eason or Jake Fromm?

Fromm has been brilliant in relief of Eason this season, perhaps brilliant enough to rip the starting gig away from the incumbent. That was one of the topics brought up in the Solid Verbal’s recap of Georgia’s win over Mississippi State. (Go to 25:23 for the Georgia segment.) Hosts Dan Rubenstein and Ty Hildenbrandt have joked for weeks about which of Georgia’s two signal-callers is “Jake Superior.” After Fromm’s stellar performance last Saturday, Rubenstein was of the opinion Fromm will hold claim to that title … if he can have a big game on the road against Tennessee.

I think that’s a pretty good question. Will a big game and a win at Tennessee be enough for Fromm to usurp Eason? To answer that, I wanted to get a baseline for the two, so I looked at each of their stats through four games (three starts) of their freshman campaigns.

RECORD CMP-ATT CMP % YARDS TD INT RAT
Jacob Eason 3-1 64-123 52.0 780 5 3 113.8
Jake Fromm 4-0 43-69 62.3 650 7 1 172.0

Eason has more sheer yardage, and the coaches put more on his plate with nearly double the amount of pass attempts through four games as Fromm. But Fromm is much more accurate and efficient than Eason. In the fifth game of his career — which came against Tennessee like Fromm’s will — Eason went 17-of-28 for 211 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. A similar or better performance by Fromm against the Vols in a win will give him clearly better numbers than Eason through five games of their careers. At that point — 5-0 with an offense that’s humming — it will be hard for fans to use stats and make an argument for Eason retaining the starting job.

It’s important to remember there are reasons outside either player’s control why Fromm has been more efficient than Eason through four games of their careers. The offensive line this season is clearly better than it was in 2016. Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney seem more comfortable in what they want to do. Fromm is getting more help from his defense and special teams than Eason ever did. And you also can’t discount the fact that Eason has probably improved a good bit since his freshman season, we just didn’t see that in the 3 passes he’s thrown this season.

Which leads me to my next point: Smart probably doesn’t care what stats or fans say about either player.

He’s even laid the groundwork for potentially picking Eason despite amazing performances from Fromm by saying he chooses his starters based on the performance in the week leading up to a game. Here are his comments on Eason from Monday, via Seth Emerson of DawgNation.

“I want the one that gives us the best opportunity to win to play quarterback,” Smart said. “And you say who is that, tell me who it is. I can’t answer that. It’s based on their performance during the week.”

Smart is going to start the player he believes gives him the best chance to win based on what’s he seen in games, practices, meetings and all kinds of other moments we’re not privy to as fans. Sentiment be damned. But, as Tony Waller noted on the Mississippi State postgame edition of the Waitin’ Since Last Saturday Podcast, the coaching staff seems capable enough to be trusted with that decision for the first time in a long time.

“I don’t think coaches look at this like Fromm made it easier or harder or whatever. But I will tell you for the first time in four year, five years, I trust the coaching staff in whatever decision they make,” Waller said. “Because we’ve seen in four games, they’re making all the right decisions.”

Let’s take a quick look at recent correct decision from Smart and his staff:

  • Bringing in J.R. Reed, who may be the team’s best defensive back.
  • Bringing in competition at kicker to get the best out of Rodrigo Blankenship, as well as bringing in Cameron Nizialek as a graduate transfer. Georgia is now No. 1 nationally in special teams S&P+.
  • Devising game plans to stop two of the most prolific run games in college football this season against Notre Dame and Mississippi State.
  • Identifying Mississippi State’s penchant to creep up against the run and running the flea-flicker to exploit it.

Smart and his coaching staff are quickly earning the benefit of the doubt in most matters. So if he chooses to start Eason even if Fromm looks like All-World, I’m going to trust him. After all, he’s got a lot more skin in this game than me.

More injury updates

Eason isn’t the only injured player Smart gave updates on Tuesday. Here, from Emerson, is what Smart had to say about the status of LG Solomon Kindley, who sprained his right ankle vs. Mississippi State:

“We think he’s going to be okay. But we just don’t want to put him in there with the 1s right now,” Smart said. “We hope he’ll be all right.”

And cornerback Malkom Parrish, who’s been absent since breaking a foot during preseason practice:

“He’s working his way back into the rotation to try and figure out where he’s at,” Smart said. “He has to be able to perform. You can’t go four weeks, five weeks or six weeks without practicing and then get back out there and expect to immediately be the same guy. There’s just too much water under the bridge. He’s working his way back. The guy played last week. He’s going to be much closer to the player he was this week.”

That Notre Dame win keeps looking better

Notre Dame is fourth in the country in red-zone touchdown percentage with 17 TDs in 19 attempts. Both failures came against the Georgia defense. From Senator Blutarsky of Get The Picture:

The Dawgs are 20th defensively in that category, at 40%.  There are two things to say about that.  First, while you may like that ranking to be higher, considering where they finished last season [121st], that’s one helluva lot of improvement.  Second, that win in South Bend is looking better and better.  We may have to say plenty of nice things about the Irish as the season rolls on.

Failure is not an option

The SEC East is garbage, y’all. Ryan McGee of ESPN put the division in his weekly “Bottom 10” ranking.

How do I love an entire division in the Coveted Fifth Spot? Let me count the ways. Vandy lost to Bama by 59 points; Mizzou lost to Auburn by 37; Kentucky fell to Florida for the 31st time in a row by blowing a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead. Then Florida had nine players tagged in a fraud case. And the team that had just lost to Kentucky last week, South Carolina, had to kick a late field goal to win 17-16 over Louisiana Tech, a team that came in the day ranked 94th in the nation in points allowed. Am I missing anyone? Oh yeah, Tennessee message boards have been filled with eleventy-billion #FireButch complaints after being in this spot solo last week and then narrowly escaping UMass. So, how many ways? All those other numbers added to eleventy-billion.

Conspicuously absent from that mess: Georgia. There will be no time better than now to win the SEC East.

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