ATHENS — If you’ve been following the storybook career of Jake Fromm, what happened Saturday night at Sanford Stadium will come as no surprise.
Of course he got thrown into action 8 1/2 minutes into his college football career. And of course he came through with flying colors. It’s what Jake Fromm does. It’s what he was born to do.
“He did exactly what I thought Jake Fromm would do,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said following the Bulldogs’ 31-10 win over Appalachian State. “There’s not been a moment that was too big for Jake Fromm since he was a little kid. He’s always been that way.”
Indeed he has. Fromm was slugging home runs as a 12-year-old to help lead Warner Robins to the Little League World Series. Then he was zipping the ball around all over the yard at Houston County High School until he finished with 116 touchdowns and 12,817 yards passing, 260 yards short of Deshaun Watson’s Georgia high-school record.
So having to run into the scoreless game with little to no warm-up, then leading his team’s offense to the tune of 300 yards and 31 unanswered points seemed almost like old hat to the big kid with the Hollywood good looks.
The only downside of this whole scenario Saturday is it came at the expense of Jacob Eason. The Bulldogs incumbent starter injured his left knee on an out-of-bounds shove with 6:30 remaining in the first quarter.
After the game, Smart remained guarded about what he said about the injury and any possible timeline for a return. He’d say only that it was a sprain and that they’d know more on Sunday.
But what Smart and the Bulldogs and all their fans learned on Saturday is that they might be all right with the freshman from Houston County.
“He does the same thing in practice,” said senior receiver Javon Wims, who caught Fromm’s first career touchdown pass, a 34-yarder on Fromm’s third set of downs. “He handled everything, all the checks. No moment is too big for him.”
Georgia’s offense had been stymied the whole game when Eason was shoved from behind as he ran out of bounds under heavy pressure. Ironically, the unsportsmanlike penalty on the play resulted in the Bulldogs’ only first down of the game at that point.
Eason, obviously gimpy, tried to get up and run off the injury. But he collapsed in the middle of the field where Georgia’s offense was trying to huddle.
During the long pause as trainers examined Eason on the field, the offense gathered on the field just in front of the Georgia sideline. Fromm already had his helmet strapped on and made his way into the center of the circle.
“When he first came in there, the receivers, me, Terry [Godwin] and whoever was in at the time, and we said, ‘We got you,” Wims said. “Just be calm, relax and do what you’ve been doing.”
Fromm followed those instructions to the letter. Awarded a first down at the Georgia 25 after the personal foul, Fromm’s first pass on second down was right on the money to tight end Isaac Nauta for 8 yards. He followed that with an 8-yard strike to Mecole Hardman, and the Bulldogs had their first first down of the night via an offensive gain.
Georgia knocked out another first down on a Sony Michel run and Fromm would complete another 5-yard pass to D’Andre Swift before incompletions to Michael Chigbu and Brian Herrien killed the drive. But the Bulldogs finally managed to flip field position after Cameron Nizialek’s punt was downed at the App State 8.
Georgia would score on a 39-yard drive in Fromm’s second series, then Wims yanked down a high throw for a 34-yard touchdown to start the second quarter. The offense rolled from that point on. The Bulldogs finished with 368 yards, most of them logged before Fromm left the game for good with 8:08 remaining in the fourth quarter.
So it was a good news/bad news kind of night. Georgia learned it has a quarterback it can depend on in Fromm, but it now is without the quarterback it had deemed best to lead this team.
It was a particularly difficult development for tight end Isaac Nauta to process. He is Eason’s roommate and best buddy and hated to see him out, but was happy for the young kid to come in and come through for the team.
“Obviously I hate that for him because we have a great relationship,” Nauta said of Eason. “But knowing Jacob, I know he’s got high spirits and he’s going to be ready to get back and get rolling. … I thought Jake stepped up and showed a lot of confidence, a lot of maturity. There’s really no way to plan for that. But he came out and did a good job and we’re proud of him.”
Fromm wasn’t available to talk about his first game. It’s Smart’s policy not to allow freshmen to talk to media regardless of the circumstances, just like last year when he muted Eason despite starting the last 12 games of the season.
But for one night at least, Fromm let his play do the talking. And really, that’s what he has done his whole life.
Athletics have continued to bring Fromm big moment after big moment. To date, he hasn’t found one too big.
He’ll get to test those limits again next week. While neither Smart nor anybody else is willing to speculate how long Eason will be sidelined, all indications point to Fromm getting his first college start at night on the road on national television against Notre Dame, the most storied college football program in history.