ATHENS — “The plan is there is no plan.”
It’s a cute little phrase Kirby Smart has come up with, but it’s not really truthful. To think for a second that Smart and co-offensive coordinators Jim Chaney and James Coley don’t discuss in great detail how they want to deploy Georgia’s two quarterbacks each week is foolhardy. That they don’t want to disclose those plans is understandable.
The fact is, the Bulldogs — for now at least — plan to continue start Jake Fromm at quarterback and bring in Justin Fields whenever needed or warranted.
Increasingly, Fields has been needed and his presence has been warranted.
That certainly was the case this past Saturday against Tennessee. Fromm was sacked three times during the Bulldogs’ 38-12 win. Fields, one might note, was not sacked.
Together, the two quarterbacks combined to lead Georgia’s offense to 441 yards and 38 points. That’s a pretty good day against any SEC opponent, even a Tennessee team that’s in a first phase of rebuilding its program.
Not coincidentally, Fields played more meaningful snaps against the Vols than he has all season. And its quite likely that those snaps will continue to increase throughout the season. That is, unless Georgia encounters an opponent that is unable to put significant pressure on the quarterback.
That may or not be the case against Vanderbilt this Saturday. The Commodores are in the bottom half of the SEC in sacks at 10 this season (Georgia’s last at 5, for what it’s worth), but they’re also allowing 366 yards a game. Only Missouri and Ole Miss have been worse.
And that’s where Smart is being straight-forward. He can’t say if or when Fields might come into any given game. But you can bet they want to get him in whenever possible both for developmental reasons and for strategic advantages.
“We don’t know how the game is going to go,” Smart said Monday. “… If you sit here and think that we know exactly when Justin’s going to go in or when Jake’s going to go in going into the game — the third series (or) the fourth snap of the second quarter — the game just doesn’t work like that. We don’t know how they’re going to play us, what front they’re going to play us in, the pressures they’re going to run. A lot of that is determined in-game.”
True, but Smart and his dozens of support staffers look at a lot of video on opposing teams. You can bet they have a pretty good idea about what the Commodores like to do defensively, what they do well and how they might try to defend the Bulldogs. Same for LSU next week.
Based on all that, they have a pretty good idea whether Fields might play a lot in this game or that one. And you can bet whatever they’ve done with Fields so far, the plan is to build on that. A wrinkle here, a wrinkle there, and suddenly opposing defensive coordinators are left with a lot to consider.
“As an offense, it opens things up a little more,” Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield said. “It’s something different that the defense has to adjust to, I’m sure playing Jake and then playing Justin, the defense has to be like ‘Oh, jeez!’ And that helps us. They both have different skill sets, but they both help our team, so it all works out.”
Holyfield’s right. Right now, it’s easy to differentiate between the two quarterbacks. It’s not hard to discern that Fromm is the designated passer and superior field general. He’s completing 72.5 percent of his passes with 9 TDs and 2 interceptions. Hence, he has attempted 72 more passes than Fields.
Fields is the mobile play-maker. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound freshman is the best on Georgia’s roster with the ball under his arm. He’s averaging 8.8 yards a carry, already has three rushing touchdowns. Notably, he has yet to be sacked. Conversely, Fromm has yet to run for a touchdown and has been sacked seven times. Twice this past Saturday that resulted in fumbles.
Even Smart doesn’t try to spin that.
“What Jake’s good at is keeping his eyes downfield and making sure that he’s looking at the coverage and knowing where to go with the ball,” Smart said. “It’s hard to look at two things sometimes. But we do think he’s got to protect the ball (better).”
Here’s the deal, though: This is not a static situation. Fields is going to continue to get better. Right now his primary threat is being able to tuck and run with the football. But he’s an intelligent quarterback by his own right. He’s in those quarterback meetings every day just like Fromm. His mastery of Georgia’s system is improving exponentially each week.
And as we’ve all observed in spurts, Fields can throw the ball a little himself. It went down as an incompletion in this past Saturday’s game, but the pass to Jayson Stanley Fields delivered on a 15-yard out from deep in Georgia’s backfield was NFL elite.
Granted, there’s a lot of ground to make up on Fromm, who as a sophomore is still progressing at his own rate. But sooner or later, the gap in comprehension will start to close, and Fields’ athletic superiority isn’t going anywhere.
As it is, when No. 1 jogs onto the field, an electrical current seems to follow. There’s a buzz of anticipation about what might happen, good or bad.
“It’s a different energy from Jake,” sophomore tackle Andrew Thomas said. “But, I mean, obviously he can run the ball and that’s the aspect he brings when he comes on the field.”
For now, though, Georgia’s quarterback position will continue to be a two-headed monster. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The Bulldogs’ opponents — and fans and reporters — will just have to guess about which quarterback might play when and how much.
This past Saturday, Tennessee saw both quarterbacks in the same series and sometimes every other snap. Vanderbilt might see the same thing or something all together different.
It’s the proverbial fluid situation, and it will only get better with time as both quarterbacks continue to improve.
“The most important thing is that each quarterback is developing and getting better,” Smart said. “People forget that Jake Fromm is a sophomore. … Both of these guys are still developing and need work and we give them tons of reps in practice. I think that’s the most important thing is that we grow.”