UGA mailbag: The Jake Fromm Show heads to Notre Dame

Jake Fromm during the Dawg Walk last week, before he knew he would be playing more than just a few snaps. Now he gets his first college start.

Welcome back to the UGA Mailbag, where each week we invite readers to pick our brain (chortle) about Georgia football, UGA athletics or whatever springs to mind. This week it’s all about Notre Dame and Jake Fromm. Well, not all about. But that dominates the discussion, so let’s get to it:

Seth: Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm both did not start their first games but they did play for a significant number of snaps. Compare and contrast how they played their first games and maybe hypothesize what you think Fromm’s first start will look like against Notre Dame. — Forestry Dawg

There are some eerie similarities: Jacob Eason’s stat line coming off the bench last year vs. North Carolina: 8 of 12 for 131 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions. Jake Fromm’s stat line vs. Appalachian State: 10 of 15 for 143 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions. And both games were against teams from the state of North Carolina. Oooooohhhhh. And now both, as freshmen, are going to start the next game.

Eason’s second start didn’t go as well: 11 of 20 for 204 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception against Nicholls State. On paper, that was the worst team on Georgia’s schedule last year, and Greyson Lambert had to come off the bench to seal a narrow 26-24 win. Fromm’s second start, in every way, is more difficult. But I have no real feel for how this is going to go.

Does Fromm just have that “it” factor and go out and lead the team to victory, managing the offense masterfully, and continue the storyline of being the next Aaron Murray? I could see that. Doo Fromm’s inexperience, Notre Dame’s defense and lack of good-enough support combine to prove too much, and he has a turnover-plagued game? I could see that too.

I do think this: Nick Chubb and Sony Michel’s presence should take a big load off Fromm’s shoulders. If Notre Dame somehow holds those two in check and sets up a lot of thirds-and-long, I foresee a long night for the Bulldogs.

Is the offensive line still considered the weakest link on the team? — Jeremy

So it was generally accepted entering the season that the O-line was the weak link, or at least the biggest question. Amid all the quarterback drama, our opinion of the line has been kind of lost in the shuffle.

Part of that simply might be because we don’t know enough yet. Kirby Smart, when I asked him Monday for his opinion, said the line was “up and down.” That went for each player, including freshman Andrew Thomas. Smart said he “handled the moment well. He had a couple [of missed assignments], but that was to be expected.”

Maybe we’ll find out more about the offensive line personnel this week, presuming Solomon Kindley is healthy enough to play.

The O-line did well enough that it’s hard for me to now call it the weak link. But no other unit played badly enough that I would say it can hold that unwanted title. So that’s good news, isn’t it? At least for now.

How will our defense “punish” Notre Dame as Dominick Sanders has said? — Emory David Davis

Well, they’ll have to “punish them from the start,” to use the phrase Sanders uttered not once, but several times. It was a Shawn Williams-like moment, at least in the sense that Sanders came to the interview session wanting to say something, and just brushed off the question in order to say what he wanted.

I’m not sure if Sanders meant it exactly the way I’m taking it, but Georgia’s defense getting off to a good start is actually vital in this one. There’s the obvious momentum aspect – don’t let the home team and its crowd get going, or this could tailspin the way the Ole Miss game did last year – but there’s also the X’s and O’s part.

The reason I’m leaning toward picking a Georgia win is the run game. For all the quarterback, offensive line and secondary questions, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will be taking that field, and against a Notre Dame run defense that is considered a weak spot. Those two guys can take it over. But if Georgia finds itself down early, that potentially puts the ball in Jake Fromm’s hands more, and for as good as he looked in the opener, the ideal scenario for the Bulldogs is to count on their star senior tailbacks, not the freshman quarterback.

And for Georgia’s defense to do that, so much of that, in my mind, rides on Sanders and the secondary. The matchup of Notre Dame’s O-line and Georgia’s front seven is good against good and might be a draw. But how much Notre Dame is able to throw to those tall receivers, and get outside in the running game, very well could decide this game.

Side note: Whew, we’re being very football-y and analytical here. We only do this for the big games. Plus no one sent any music-related questions.

In the opening game, Jim Chaney rarely used Mecole Hardman, Ahkil Crumpton and Terry Godwin. Was that a decoy and will they be featured in prime time on Saturday? I’ll hang up and listen. — SnoopDawg, Long Beach, Calif.

There were several questions this week that essentially asked this question: Did Jim Chaney and Georgia hold something back for the opener? That’s always hard to answer, because no one around the team will ever admit it on the record, and the truth is also that most coaches don’t think the way we do. No, they didn’t plan to throw everything they had at Appalachian State, but they also didn’t see it as an exhibition game. They saw it as, “If we lose this game, forget about Notre Dame. Our coaching futures are already in trouble.”

My guess in these type of situations is usually that the staff has some plays and wrinkles it will burn if the game remains close late, but once the game is no longer in doubt, they happily stuff those play calls in their backpack for next week.

Now, I’m not privy to the game plan for Saturday, but I suspect Hardman and Godwin will at least be more involved, especially Godwin. Hardman is still getting comfortable on offense, though he did have the one catch. Crumpton is in the mix, too, as we’ve seen during our brief glimpses of practice this week. But D’Andre Swift got those passes out of the slot that Crumpton, Hardman and Godwin might have gotten, and Swift did look good doing it.

Notre Dame is going to stack the box, one would guess, and dare Fromm to stretch the field vertically. Fromm can do that, but based on what we saw in the opener, he’s more likely to try to get Notre Dame off balance by completing high-percentage passes and going up-tempo. But high percentage doesn’t necessarily mean short.

Lost in the Fromm’s-now-taking-the-snaps post-game fervor were the contributions from D’Andre Swift.  A true freshman, Swift got more touches against App. State than anyone not named Chubb or Michel.  UGA got him the ball early and late; through the air or on the ground. Outside curiosity and concern about how Fromm will play moving forward, I’m most anxious to see how UGA continues to incorporate Swift into game planning.  Interested in your thoughts on this. — John Wilson, Columbia S.C.

We spent a lot of time assuming that Isaiah McKenzie would be replaced by either Hardman, Crumpton or one of the tailbacks they’ve been practicing in the slot. And they still could, but Swift sure looked like the main option in the opener. Of course, 3 catches doesn’t exactly mean he’s a starter. Swift’s carry total was aided by Elijah Holyfield being suspended.

Still, it isn’t like Swift wasn’t highly recruited. He was, and I’m sure Smart and Chaney have been thinking for awhile about ways to incorporate him into the game plan. As I mentioned in the second glance on Monday, one of Chaney’s successes last season was pinpointing McKenzie as a potential weapon and finding ways to get him the ball, and he might be doing that with Swift now.

Now let’s try to go one question-and-answer without mentioning Jake Fromm. I mean, starting … now.

I could only find an 18 1/2-minute highlight video of the ND/Temple match up, but that ND offense looked extremely good when it came to run blocking (two projected 1st rounders on the left side), which lead to many yards before contact for their RBs. It certainly is easier to put up big numbers when your RBs are able to be at top speed heading north instead of having to wiggle & dodge to get beyond the line of scrimmage. How good do you feel about our ability to plug those holes and keep their tailbacks from gouging out long runs like they did against the Owls? — Alex Reyne, Bakersfield, Calif.

First off, a big compliment for all your hard work in the film room. Jake Fromm would be impressed.

Oops.

My belief is that, for all the Fromm-Brandon Wimbush talk, this game is most likely to be decided in the trenches. I talked earlier about Georgia needing to be able to depend on its running game – which obviously assumes the run-blocking is there, which may be a risky assumption. But your question was about the other side of the ball, and I think we know what we’re dealing with there. We just don’t know how it will turn out.

It’s good on good. Georgia’s front seven may be one of the best in the nation, but Notre Dame’s line is really good too. Trent Thompson, Jonathan Ledbetter, Julian Rochester and company will make their plays up the middle, and Roquan Smith – who is incredibly quick sideline-to-sideline for an inside linebacker – will be key. The question is how consistently Georgia can stop that run, and how often Notre Dame will get a push or not. My sense is to give the Bulldogs a slight advantage, but I don’t say that with an extreme degree of confidence.

OK, this time we’ll definitely not mention the quarterbacks. Ha, you know we’re kidding.

Javon Wims had a great game but appeared to roll his ankle on the 4th down catch in the 3rd quarter. Has there been any news about his health? Any concern that he’ll be less than 100 percent for Notre Dame? — David

There’s always the chance he’s only at 90 percent or thereabouts, but Wims has been running routes like normal at practice this week, and he’s been available for interviews, both after the game and during the week. So it seems all systems are go.

How ’bout Tyler Catalina? — Tom Grose

Indeed, how about Catalina — and how about Maurice Smith, Reggie Davis and Quincy Mauger? Those four undrafted free agents from last year’s team all made NFL rosters: Catalina with Washington, Smith with Miami, and Davis with Cleveland after being waived by Atlanta. Mauger is on the Falcons’ injured-reserved list.

There was a lot of talk after the draft about Georgia’s talent base last season being thin, evidenced by McKenzie being the only one drafted. But four players off that team are now on active rosters, and as I have always pointed out, several more would have been if they hadn’t returned for their senior years (Chubb, Michel, Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter and probably Dominick Sanders.)

This isn’t to say last year’s team was the most talented ever. Catalina, Smith and Davis aren’t starters in the NFL. But again, as I pointed out before, the Georgia team of last season had talent. It just had inexperienced talent and still was experiencing the consequences of the busted 2013 class. There still will be a lot of future NFL players to come from the team of last season.

And the token UGA basketball question of the week

This weekend UGA received a verbal commitment from Amanze Ngumezi, a 4- star power forward from Savannah. There are three more players on Georgia’s wish list, all of whom are highly touted prospects that rank in the top 100 nationally. It’s likely Georgia signs two of them, to give Mark Fox his best recruiting coup of his tenure at the university. What does this reveal to fans? It has to be more than Jonas Hayes’ savvy recruiting. — Steve Shockley

It’s because of Hayes as well as Phillip Pearson, the latter of whom generally has recruited well throughout his tenure at Georgia. Things have gotten better with Hayes on board, but there’s still room to improve. The hope three years ago was that Yasir Rosemond would be a recruiting maven, but his results were rather average, and now he’s at Alabama.

Let’s see how this recruiting cycle goes. At a minimum, what it says to me is that Fox’s hot-seat status doesn’t seem to be hurting on the recruiting trail. Maybe that’s a testament to the assistants, maybe it shows that Fox has really established himself in the regional recruiting scene, and maybe it’s both.

And finally …

UGA will battle the luck of the Irish this weekend. What are some of your favorite sports-related superstitions? — Allan Harvey

My favorite, and most irrational, is one that I know is common: The certainty I feel that if things are not going well for the team I’m watching, that something I do from my couch will affect that. Turn off the TV, change the channel to something else, or just leave the room, and my guys will just turn it around!

Back when I was a baseball pitcher, whenever I was throwing a no-hitter, I always followed the same good-luck routine of not thinking about it, my teammates not acknowledging it, etc. Haha, just kidding. My no-hitters were always done by the No. 3 hitter at the latest.

These days, up in the press box the main thing is for a quick game. No overtime. The phrase that draws the most dirty looks is, “Wow, this game is going quickly.” Think it. Don’t say it. And preferably, don’t think it either.

 

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