- The game: Appalachian State at Georgia, Sept. 2, 2017
- The moment: Georgia’s starting quarterback sustains knee injury in the first quarter.
- Key player or players: Georgia’s Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm, Appalachian State’s Myquon Stout.
- What it meant: At first thought to be a potentially disastrous development for the Bulldogs and their quest to win the SEC championship and reach the College Football Playoff, Fromm stepped in and proved he was going to be up for the challenge and would not be a liability to that end.
ATHENS – It’s fascinating to revisit it now, the reaction when quarterback Jacob Eason went down in Georgia’s first game. It was thought to be a disastrous development, especially from a national perspective. This, it was written, is liable to ruin the Bulldogs’ season.
Now, some say it might have been the single most significant event toward propelling Georgia to the success it had in 2017.
Eason going out meant that Jake Fromm came in at quarterback. On the surface, that meant going from a seasoned sophomore who started 14 games to a freshman who had never played in a college football game. But, as it turned out, Georgia didn’t miss a beat offensively, and might’ve played even better. Thanks in part to Fromm, the Bulldogs would go on to win the Appalachian State game and 13 of 15 in a season that would not end until the College Football Playoff championship game against Alabama on Jan. 8.
“You know, Jake’s a special kid; he’s a gamer,” head coach Kirby Smart said of Fromm after Georgia’s 26-23 overtime loss to the Crimson Tide. “He understands the game of football. He sees spacing on the field. He sees guys open. He’s a very accurate passer. If you want to know about Jake Fromm, go ask those guys on the other side of the ball.”
But nobody outside of Fromm’s inner circle from Warner Robins was certain about his abilities on Sept. 2. The belief at that point was that the Bulldogs’ best chance for success in 2017 would come behind Eason, the big-armed, former 5-star recruit who already had a season of experience playing major college football.
— #RiseUp (@TheNayborz) September 2, 2017
Eason never got a chance to show whether that belief was justified. He had just 7 snaps behind center by the time Georgia faced second-and-15 on its own 11-yard line in the first quarter against Appalachian State. On his eighth snap, Eason was in the shotgun and faced moderate pressure inside the pocket when he decided to roll to right while continuing to try to find an open receiver down the field. He never did.
Eason still had the ball in his hands by the time he reached the sideline and he ran out of bounds for a loss of 1 yard. About a yard out of bounds, Eason was shoved in the back by Appalachian State defensive lineman Myquon Stout. The momentum of the push while simultaneously trying to negotiate the chain from the yard-marking crew forced Eason to land awkwardly on his left leg.
At first, Eason tried to walk off the injury and continue to play in the game. But when he reached midfield, the pain became too great and Eason fell to the ground. He was helped off the field, and later it was revealed Eason sustained a sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. The initial prognosis was that Eason would be out four to six weeks.
In the meantime, Georgia still had a game to play. Stout was flagged for a personal foul on the play, so the Bulldogs were awarded 15 yards and first down at the 25-yard line. Fromm, not expecting to play, had to scramble to get on his helmet and hustle into the game without the benefit of even a warm-up toss.
Fromm’s first pass of the season came on second down and was an 8-yard completion to tight end Isaac Nauta. He also completed his second pass for 8 yards to Mecole Hardman, then one more before Georgia’s drive ended with a pooch punt from the Appalachian State 45-yard line.
But Fromm got it going soon enough. The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their next three possessions as Fromm started to complete passes, and that opened up lanes for Georgia’s ballyhooed backs. The Bulldogs’ offense also noticeably picked up tempo. The Bulldogs continued to move at a quick pace before finally slowing down after building a 31-0 lead late in the third quarter.
Georgia cruised to a 31-10 victory, and Fromm finished 10-of-15 passing for 143 yards and a touchdown on a 34-yard pass to Javon Wims early in the second quarter.
“It wasn’t like we were going tempo with Jake Fromm and not with Jacob,” Smart said afterward. “We just couldn’t get it going early, which sometimes is tough against a really good defense. Then, once we got it going, I told [Fromm], ‘Once we hit one we’re going to go, get the cumulative effect, and wear them down.’ We got a little tempo going, and it juiced it up.”
Georgia’s offense kept it going for the rest of the season, for the most part. The Bulldogs ended up averaging 435 yards and 35.4 points per game, and Fromm finished the year completing 62.2 percent of his passes for 2,615 yards and 24 touchdowns with 2 interceptions.
Eason did come back. He saw his first action in a game four weeks later during mop-up duty of the Bulldogs’ 41-0 win over Tennessee in Knoxville. He played only sparingly the rest of the way and always in non-meaningful situations against vanquished opponents. For the year, Eason was 4-of-7 passing for 28 yards without either a touchdown or an interception.
After the season, Eason announced he was leaving Georgia. Published reports have pegged him to transfer to his home-state Washington, though neither Eason nor the Huskies have confirmed that move.
In an interview in Los Angeles before the Rose Bowl, Eason said he believed the Bulldogs would have had the same level of success had he been the quarterback all the way. Alas, no one ever will know.
More than likely, Eason would have been better as a sophomore than he was as a freshman. Smart certainly thinks so.
“It’s sad that nobody got to see the growth that Jacob Eason had from Year 1 to Year 2,” Smart said during a radio interview on 680 The Fan last week. “We never really got to see that, other than a series there against App State.”
What a fateful series that one ended up being.