Own the East: QB depth could be crucial component of UGA’s championship chase
Georgia begins the season without a quarterback controversy, but not without questions about the position. The most significant being: what happens if the starter, Jake Fromm, gets hurt?
Of course, no fan wants to talk about injuries; the topic’s a bummer for sure. However, no one can deny that injuries are also part of the game. In fact, in the College Football Playoff era, injuries to quarterbacks have been a legitimate storyline.
In 2014, Ohio State won the first College Football Playoff after two quarterback injuries. Cardale Jones – who started the season as the No. 3 signal caller – averaged 247 yards passing over three starts in the Big 10 championship and two playoff games. The Buckeyes likely wouldn’t have won the national title without him.
In addition to that, both the teams in last year’s national championship game navigated brief quarterback injuries to get to that point. Alabama possibly wouldn’t have beaten UGA in the SEC championship game if it wasn’t for Jalen Hurts stepping in after Tua Tagovailoa left the game with an ankle injury. Likewise, Clemson needed relief from its backup, Chase Brice, vs. Syracuse to preserve its undefeated season.
Not to mention Fromm – who started 2017 as the backup before taking over after Jacob Eason was injured in the season opener, and then led the Bulldogs to an SEC championship and Rose Bowl win vs. Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff.
If UGA is forced to call on its backup this year, will he respond as well as previous quarterbacks have in the Playoff Era – including the way Fromm once did? That remains to be seen.
The answer to that question is made more complicated by the health issue D’Wan Mathis – one of the potential backups to Fromm – faced during the offseason.
The incoming freshman from Belleville, Mich. had surgery in May to remove a cyst from his brain. It was a scary moment for Mathis and his family, but all indications are the procedure was successful and Mathis is on his way to a full recovery. However, he could be forced to wait a bit longer to get into the action.
“D’Wan isn’t fully cleared,” UGA coach Kirby Smart said to start summer practices. “But he’s able to do passing drills and individual drills. Things where we know he can be safe and not take a hit.”
Mathis is undoubtedly disappointed about the setback to start to his college career, but he’ll likely make good use of his time while being less than 100 percent. Mathis made it clear when he signed with the Bulldogs that he was coming to UGA to develop.
“I’m coming in to work, and put my head down, and do what I’m supposed to do,” Mathis told DawgNation in December. “Of course I want to compete, but I’m not coming in to try to push Jake Fromm out of the way and take his job because – of course – the chances of that happening are very low.”
Mathis added he wanted to “learn what he can from Jake Fromm and see where that can take me.”
According to Fromm, the hard work Mathis promised has already been put on display.
“D’Wan’s doing well. D’Wan’s learning,” Fromm said. “Physically, he’s getting better. He’s running well and throwing well.”
That assessment is good news for Mathis, but the practical reality is his unfortunate health situation could slow his development some this season. If so, more pressure will seemingly be put on UGA’s other backup quarterback, Stetson Bennett, to be ready if Fromm needs a rest.
Pressure doesn’t seem to be something Bennett minds.
He made a name for himself as a former walk-on at UGA during the 2017 season when he – as scout team quarterback — gave the Bulldogs defense a taste of what playing Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield would be like before UGA met the Sooners in the Rose Bowl. Bennett performed so well in that spot that he earned praise and respect from his teammates.
Presumably those compliments have something to do with the fact Bennett once reportedly completed 30 of 34 passes against UGA’s first-team defense during practice.
“That was our favorite, beating the 1 defense,” Bennett said. “Because what else were we looking forward to? We weren’t going to play on Saturdays, so that was our games. We knew we could do it.”
However, even with that success and the attention that accompanied it, Bennett couldn’t be sure about his future at UGA.
He initially made the decision to leave Georgia after his practice heroics in 2017 because he didn’t think he’d get a chance at playing time. He spent a year at Jones County Junior College in Mississippi before returning to the Bulldogs on scholarship as a member of the 2019 signing class.
Now, the player who once doubted opportunity existed for him at UGA knows he could be a play away from entering the game at any moment, and having the championship dreams of all of DawgNation resting on his shoulders.
Bennett doesn’t seem overwhelmed by that potential scenario.
“My biggest thing is to learn the offense in and out and get with Jake and let him teach me,” Bennett said during spring practice. “He’s been here and he knows everything in and out. … Be the best I can, that’s all I want to be.”
That perspective could pay off for Bennett, much the same way Mathis’ work ethic and determination helps his cause.
No one knows how either would perform if thrust into the bright spotlight that Fromm has thrived in over the last two years. However, their talent and potential is obvious and it was put on display in April during UGA’s annual G-Day spring scrimmage.
Smart liked what he saw.
“Both of those guys did a nice job,” Smart said after G-Day. “I was pleased with the way Stetson and D’wan managed the game from the field. That’s important. That’s important for their growth. They’re only going to get better through practicing, and ‘repping’ and playing in that kind of environment.”
Smart’s description of the two quarterbacks is an encouraging sign, but it’ll do little to lessen the anxiety for UGA fans if Fromm were forced to leave a game – even with a minor injury.
That’s understandable. But if it happens, both Bennett and Mathis will be eager to get their shot.