The facts indicate Georgia has probably under-utilized QB Justin Fields
ATHENS – One hundred and two plays.
You think Georgia ought to play Justin Fields more? That’s what you’re basing it on — 102 plays. Through seven games, that’s how much Fields has played for the Bulldogs this season.
That’s all, some might ask? Yes, that’s all.
Or, looked at another way, that’s a lot for a true freshman playing behind an incumbent starter for the defending conference champions.
So, let’s dig into it a little deeper and see what we find.
First off, that’s unofficial. It’s based on my personal game notes and the play-by-play sheets from Georgia’s seven games this season. I didn’t go back on my DVR and review every play of every game, so I could’ve missed a play or two here or there. But it’s pretty close, if not dead on.
And that counts all plays. If there was an offsides penalty that nullified a play, such as was the case when Fields threw an apparent interception against Tennessee, I counted it. He was in the game and he ran a play, so I counted it. Therefore, what we examine here won’t necessarily match up with official stats.
So that’s what we have: Seven games, 102 plays, or 14.57 snaps per contest.
Broken down, Fields played a high of 21 snaps against Austin Peay and Vanderbilt and a low of one snap against Missouri in Game 4. In the 36-16 loss to LSU this past Saturday, Fields had his second-lowest total of the season – five plays. That has rankled more than a few Georgia folks, or so you may have heard.
Where it gets tricky with Fields is how many truly meaningful snaps Fields has played. A coach would tell you all of them are, but we all know that’s not necessarily true. So, I broke that down, too.
It’s subjective, of course, but I came up with 36 snaps — or about a third — as being of the “meaningful” variety. Basically, if it occurred before the fourth quarter and the game was not yet a blowout, I considered it a meaningful snap.
For example, I didn’t count any of Fields’ 19 snaps against South Carolina as his first action came with Georgia leading 41-10 early in the fourth quarter. Conversely, I counted all five plays against LSU, half his 18 plays against Vanderbilt, all 15 of his plays against Tennessee, his one play versus Missouri and even his first six plays against Middle Tennessee as meaningful, because they came early and with the outcome undecided to some degree.
What else did I learn? On average, Fields doesn’t enter Georgia’s games until the fifth offensive series. He came in on the Bulldogs’ fourth possession four times, but he didn’t come in against South Carolina until Series 10, which skews it a little.
Also, it is rare that Fields is given a whole series to run the offense. Fields entered the LSU game on four different occasions. Three times, he ran one play and immediately came out. The other time he ran two plays in a row. Both of them were handoffs to Elijah Holyfield. They went for 13 and 10 yards, the second for a touchdown. Fields then came out for Jake Fromm to run a 2-point conversion play.
Increasingly, Fields entered games in the middle of possessions. Only once against LSU did he start a series. He kept the ball on a zone-read for three yards on first-and-10 at the Georgia 25 in the third quarter and then came out. Otherwise, his appearances came on the second play twice and the ninth play on the possession when Holyfield scored.
Of the 25 different times Fields has trotted in from the sideline, eight times that has been for one play. Those were all in the last four games, all SEC contests.
And that’s been the case for most of Fields’ meaningful snaps. Against Vanderbilt, those came on the ninth play and fourth play of the fourth and sixth series, respectively. Fields was given the fifth series against Tennessee but came out after eight plays. Otherwise, his appearances were on the 10th, fourth and ninth plays of possessions. He ran both plays of Georgia’s 10th series that started at the Tennessee 31 and scored on a 15-yard run.
Where it gets really interesting is what Fields does once he gets into the games. As just about everybody has probably noted just from watching the games, it’s usually a run play when Fields is in the game. By my calculations, Georgia runs the ball 73.5 percent of the time when the freshman is in at quarterback. That number decreases slightly when considering Fields running out of the pocket on a pass play. But even when that’s taken into account, Fields runs the ball himself only 16.6 percent of the time.
On 58 of his snaps, or 56.8 percent of the time, Fields hands off the ball to one of Georgia’s running backs. The grand majority of those plays are zone-reads.Fields has passed it 27 times, or 26.4 percent of the time. Again, a couple of those didn’t count due to penalty, including, thankfully for Fields, one interception. But when he has thrown it, Fields has thrown it pretty well.
Officially, Fields’ statistics look like this: 200 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18-of-25 passing (72.0 percent) and 136 yards rushing on 18 attempts (7.6 ypc) and 3 TDs.
So those are the facts as we know them. Of course, Georgia’s coaches are going on much more, and that’s the part we can’t know anything about. The Bulldogs video every drill and scrimmage play in practice. In the quarterback room, Georgia’s quarterbacks are tested each week on what they know with regard to the game plan.
So, if you’re a fan, you just have to trust the coaches. Generally, there aren’t any politics involved in these competitions. The best players play, or so we’re told.
I share all this with you today because the quarterback situation at Georgia officially has become controversial. I don’t believe that’s necessarily the case within the team. I don’t foresee a midseason transfer or anything dramatic like that.
But it is what it is now. When rappers and former players are sending out social media messages telling Smart he needs to play the freshman more, it’s now a quarterback controversy. When every national analyst is weighing in, it’s a controversy.
The bottom line is this: Georgia’s offense was struggling against LSU this past Saturday and Fromm was having a bad day. Yet, the Bulldogs never turned to Fields to remedy the situation.
The assumption is that Georgia wanted to win the game. Therefore, the takeaway has to be that the coaches didn’t believe Fields was the answer.
Could he be going forward? We’ll find out a lot after this bye week and when Georgia goes to Florida.
You should note that the Gators sacked LSU quarterback Joe Burrow five times and forced two interceptions and a fumble when they beat them two weeks ago. Florida’s defensive coordinator is Todd Grantham, who likes his defenses to get after the quarterback.
Fromm was sacked three times against LSU this past Saturday and had his worst day throwing the football. He completed 47.1 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions to one touchdown. Fields, as we all probably noticed, didn’t attempt a pass.
So there are a couple of conclusions to draw from that: One, Georgia’s coaches don’t yet trust Fields with the game plan; or, two, they simply didn’t want to throw Fields into the frenzied environment of Tiger Stadium and have his confidence wrecked.
The bottom line is, to date, Fields really hasn’t played all that much. The guess is we’re likely going to see a lot more of him.