ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart seized the question — or more accurately, the questioner. He was asked about the number of passes called for quarterback Jake Fromm on Saturday early in the game and, you know, was that a point of emphasis for the Bulldogs?
“Those were actually runs,” Smart said sharply.
“What?” the correspondent replied, confused.
“The runs that he was throwing the ball on, those were actually runs,” Smart said. “Those were RPOs.”
Smart was making a point about his freshman quarterback. The refrain heard all year that Georgia can’t pass or Fromm can’t pass or that the Bulldogs refuse to pass is growing tired, even for the coach who allegedly listens to nothing outside his own four walls. His quarterback can throw pretty much anytime he wants to. Or, to the point, whenever it is dictated by the defense.
RPO stands for run-pass option. That is what Georgia, which is ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, is doing primarily on offense these days. The Bulldogs call a play from the sideline, then Fromm has the option of handing off, running the ball himself or throwing off of it.
“We were running the ball,” Smart explained. “They just weren’t letting us run the ball. He opted to throw it.”
And when Fromm opts to throw it, he’s pretty good at it. He was 16 of 22 for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Gamecocks on Saturday. More importantly, while Fromm still wasn’t throwing the ball a lot, the ones he was competing were going for good gains on big downs. Georgia converted 8 of its 13 third downs into first downs. His average per attempt was 8.9 yards, just shy of his average coming in, which ranked fifth nationally.
Hence, Fromm’s final pass efficiency rating for the night – 177.6. That should increase his margin atop the list of SEC quarterbacks.
So, yeah, the kid can throw. More accurately, he can run Jim Chaney’s offense to great effect.
“I thought he made good decisions with the ball,” Smart said. “He understands where he wants to go with the ball; he understands what defenses are trying to take away; he continues to get better. And he’s got to continue to do that. He missed a couple things today we thought he could have had, some motions and adjustments. But we put a lot on his plate and he’s done a good job of managing that.”
While the Bulldogs didn’t run roughshod over an opposing defense the way they have been most of the time this season, they actually looked more like the offensive team they’re designed to be. That is, Georgia came pretty close to achieving the balance Smart so covets. The Bulldogs had 242 yards on the ground and 196 through the air. The idea is to keep the defense guessing, to keep defenders on their heels because they’re not confident about what’s coming next.
That was evident a few times Saturday. The Bulldogs’ first three scoring drives were all 10 or more plays and went for 69, 75 and 75 yards.
Georgia’s last drive of the day actually ended in a field goal. The Bulldogs ran 15 plays and consumed 7:35 of the clock midway through the quarter. Georgia had to settle for a 20-yard Rodrigo Blankenship field goal.
“That made me proud of the effort and the time and the grind they’ve put in,” Smart said. “Offenses usually stop themselves when they’re on the field that long. If they’d cashed that in with a touchdown, it probably would’ve been the best drive of the year.”
It might’ve been Fromm’s best game of the season, but no one on Georgia’s sideline is convinced of that. They all believe the best is still ahead for the young gun from Houston County.
In Fromm, the Bulldogs believe, despite what others might say.
“We don’t know people say that, to be honest,” said senior wideout Javon Wims, who led the Bulldogs with 5 catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. “I think Jake did very well, like he always does. He’s a field general and he controlled the show.”
Said Sony Michel, “At the end of the day, whether people think we can throw the ball or not doesn’t mean anything to us. They’re going to say good things about us and bad things about us. We just go out and play football.”
It’s working well so far.