The Jake Fromm Years and A Missed Opportunity
After falling to Alabama in the 2018 National Championship game, there was nothing but good things going forward for the Bulldogs. Jake Fromm was a star in the making, the running back room was filled with talent, like it always is at Georgia, and they returned some key pieces to an outstanding defense. On top of all of that, Smart brought in the best recruiting class in the country in 2018. Some people even thought that Smart’s 2018 class was the best in the history of college football.
The talent was all around in that 2018 class. Their big signing was dual threat quarterback Justin Fields from Pennsylvania. According to most recruiting sites, Fields was the second ranked player in the entire 2018 class, only trailing Clemson commit Trevor Lawrence. However, ESPN ranked Fields as the best recruit in the country, so Georgia was getting it all with Fields’ signature. The class as a whole included seven five-star recruits including running back Zamir White and defensive back Tyson Campbell.
Many people outside the Georgia program immediately questioned Fields’ choice to attend Georgia. Even if he was the best recruit in the country, he was coming into a tricky situation. Fields was at one point committed to Penn State in 2016. However, the quarterbacks ahead of him were not willing to let the starting job go easily. Even Smart didn’t think Fields would see the field in his freshman year, except for mop up duty and special plays.
Jake Fromm had just come off of a national championship game loss, but other than that, things were sitting pretty for Fromm. He led the Bulldogs to the title game as a freshman, and he was named to the Freshman All-American team, and also won the SEC’s Freshman of the Year in 2017-2018.
It was fair to say the job was Fromm’s to lose from the moment he stepped on the field to replace Eason in 2017. Eason, who was a five star recruit, decided to transfer to Washington in February of 2018, so Georgia’s first five star quarterback recruit, was hitting the road after a year with the program.
Before the biggest early season game of the year versus Notre Dame in week three, the Bulldogs demolished Austin Peay and South Carolina in weeks one and two by a combined score of 85-17. Fromm didn’t see much of the second half in either game. He threw for three touchdowns and one interception in the two early games. Fields on the other hand, was impressive as well versus the two non-conference opponents. Playing only in garbage time, Fields passed for 71 yards and rushed for 34. He also added a passing touchdown.
Georgia would go on to have an easy early season schedule. The Dogs beat Middle Tennessee State, Missouri, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt before their week seven match-up with LSU. Up to that point Fromm had completed 70% of his passes for 849 yards, with nine touchdowns and only one interception. Fields had thrown a touchdown and ran one in against Middle Tennessee State. However, he didn’t see the field against Missouri and only was on the field for brief plays against Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Against LSU, Fromm had his worst game of his college career thus far. He was 16-34 for 209 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the 36-16 loss to LSU. In the video below, you can see the mistakes Fromm made the entire game. He couldn’t hit moving receivers, he was pressured all afternoon with very little success against the blitz, all while a five star recruit who would give LSU’s defense a different look, is sitting on the bench.
After the LSU loss, which dropped them from their previous number two ranking in the polls, Georgia caught fire and won five in a row, including three SEC games during that time. Fromm was back to his old self, completing 73% of his passes for eleven touchdowns and just one interception. However, it was starting to feel like Georgia was missing something, something that would make them truly elite. Fromm was one of the better game-managers in college football the past ten years, but that’s all he was, a game manager. With backs like Zamir White and D’Andre Swife, plus weapons on the outside like Riley Ridley, and Mecole Hardman. All of that on top of an elite defense. The thing Georgia was missing, was a play-making quarterback. Fromm had done his job up to that point, and he’d done it very well. However, you could clearly see as Fromm progressed that he would never be more than a game-manager, and to some critics and fans, that wasn’t enough.
After reeling off those five straight wins, the Dogs were headed to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Their opponent? Who else but Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide. Could this be the year a Nick Saban under-study gets the best of him? Well it sure looked that way, as Georgia took a 21-14 lead into half time. Fromm had thrown one touchdown to Swift, and another to young tight-end Isaac Nauta. The fears of Jake Fromm not being a good enough player to get Georgia into college football’s elite, were slowly being dialed back.
The Bulldogs started the second half just like they did the first, with a Jake Fromm touchdown pass. Fromm took Georgia to the end zone in three plays, culminating with the 23-yard touchdown pass to Riley Ridley. However, from that point on, the game was Alabama’s. Down 28-14, Jalen Hurts and the Tide offense put up 21 straight unanswered points. The first came from a 51 yard touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa to Jaylen Waddle to bring the Tide within two scores. Then with just over five minutes left in the game, Jalen Hurts hit Jerry Jeudy in stride for a 10 yard touchdown pass to even the score at 28.
On Georgia’s possession before Alabama scored the tying touchdown, Fromm was incredibly inaccurate and had a number of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage. Fromm was never really a threat with his feet, which made it easy for Alabama to sit back in zone coverage, while also only rushing four defenders.
With 1:04 left in the game, Jalen Hurts scampered for fifteen yards and the go ahead touchdown. The point after was good, so Georgia needed to score a touchdown and hit an extra point to take this to overtime. On the last possession Fromm wasn’t great, but he wasn’t terrible either. Again, with Fromm not being able to use his legs, the Tide defense sat in a deep zone while rushing only three. Even while rushing three, they managed to sack Fromm on third down near the 50 yard line. Georgia had time for one more heave to the end zone. There was 17 seconds left on the clock when Fromm released the ball downfield. Unfortunately for Fromm and the Dogs, he threw into double coverage, and the ball was batted to the ground.
Jake Fromm, finished the game going 25-39, for 301 yards and three touchdowns. However, the story was not about Fromm’s above average game, it was about Georgia’s inability to hold or build on a lead partly because Fromm was so frozen in the pocket.
After the SEC Championship, the Dogs still had an outside shot to make the playoff, but would need some help. In the end, Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs were the first team out, and accepted a bid to play in the 2019 Sugar Bowl versus then number fifteen ranked Texas.
Georgia went into the Sugar Bowl as heavy 10.5 point favorites over Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns. Texas came out of the gates hot, and rolled out to a 17-0 lead with just under a minute played in the second quarter. With 9:03 left in the half, the Bulldogs finally got on the board with a Jake Fromm touchdown pass to Brian Herrien. At the half the score was Texas 20, Georgia 7.
Georgia shocked anyone viewing the game by kicking a quick onside kick to begin the second half. Luckily the Bulldogs recovered and were in good position to go down and score quickly. However, after an Elijah Holyfield 11-yard first down run, Fromm dropped back and was picked off by Texas defensive back P.J. Locke III. The rest of the game the two teams traded blows, and Georgia finally got the score to within a touchdown with fourteen seconds to go in the game. The ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Longhorns, who took a knee to end the game with a final score of 28-21 Texas.
This is the point in the story where things fall off of an unexpected cliff. Jake Fromm had a pretty damn good year, yet the belief around the country is that he was holding them back. Kirby Smart certainly think so, as he told many news outlets after the season how proud he was of Fromm’s growth. On the other hand, how long could Smart really hold out on Justin Fields. The offense with him at quarterback? Well, the end of the season might have been very different if Fields was in the game.
Now on the cusp of Fromm’s eventual, final season at Georgia, head coach Kirby Smart had some thinking to do. Fromm had been great for him under center, but was it true that Fields could make Georgia truly elite, with the likes of Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State? On top of all of that, there was a growing sense around the University of Georgia at the time, that Fields would be entering the transfer portal, and try to gain immediate eligibility. Justin Fields, the one player who ever out-ranked Trevor Lawrence as the best player in the nation, has no spot on the field for Georgia? Was it really too late for Smart, who had all but latched himself on the Jake Fromm wagon?
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*Tomorrow we will dive into the 2019 season at Georgia. Jake Fromm’s fall from grace, and the recruiting boards. On top of that we will get into the Justin Fields saga a bit and end with the results of this season at Georgia. A season that could have been much better had Smart made the decision to start the five star transfer instead of a walk-on, and a small-time recruit.
UPDATE: Gunner Stockton, a five-star quarterback from Rabun County, Georgia, just committed to Georgia. He is the 38th ranked player nationally, is the number one rated dual-threat quarterback in the country, and the third ranked player in the talented state of Georgia. On August 20, 2020, Stockton committed to play football at the University of South Carolina. However, only five months later, he has now committed to the University of Georgia, after de-committing from the Gamecocks in January.
Stockton compares well to current University of North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell. Stockton is 6’1, 220 pounds, so he is a bullish runner when using his feet. He doesn’t have a very high ceiling, but he projects as a power-five starter in the near future. This past year, Stockton was 229-334 for 3,473 yards, 43 passing touchdowns, 19 rushing touchdowns, and only six interceptions for Rabun County.
This is another situation that just bothers me as an outsider. Georgia has failed to produce a decent NFL prospect at quarterback for the last 5-6 years. Stockton is from the 2022 class so he has one more season in high school, while Georgia also nabbed the top ranked quarterback in the state of Georgia in the 2021 class, five-star Brock Vandagriff. This has the chance of turning into the exact same scenario Smart faced with Fromm and Fields back in 2018-2019. Just because you are from Georgia, does not mean you are obligated to give them a look. They don’t produce NFL talent at the quarterback position. They are leagues away from recruiting quarterbacks like Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Clemson. Hopefully everything works out for Vandgriff, Stockton, and Smart in Georgia. No one wants to see another Justin Fields scenario, except for Ohio State fans, that is.
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