Yesterday we got into Kirby Smart’s first impressions as the Georgia Head Coach. Today we move on to Kirby Smart’s love, almost obsession, with Jake Fromm.
The Arrival of Jake Fromm
Depending which side of the fence you land on, Jake Fromm’s arrival in Athens was either a blessing or a curse, or both. After a sub-par 2016 season, the Bulldogs came into the 2017 college football scene with some major expectations, They return their five star quarterback Jacob Eason, and their top two running backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The defense would be led by junior middle linebacker Roquan Smith. The defense was loaded once again, as Smart brought in the number six recruiting class in the country in 2016. Lorenzo Carter, Richard LeCounte, and defensive back Deandre Baker would help Smith in leading the defense.
Georgia and Kirby Smart came out of the gate very hot in 2017. They pummeled Appalachian State in their home opener 31-10. However, early in the first half, quarterback Jacob Eason scrambled around the right end and was tackled out of bounds, which led to him landing awkwardly landing on his right leg. He tried to shake off the injury, but in the end he just wasn’t able to finish the game. Now is where we get into the real meat of the story, Jake Fromm. Fromm stepped in for Jacob Eason, and guided the Dogs to an easy win. Fromm was 10-15 throwing for 143 yards and one touchdown.
Fromm’s numbers weren’t anything that jumped off the page at you, but he was solid and steady from the moment he stepped on the field versus Appalachian State. However, he needed to be ready because the Bulldogs were on the road in week two, playing a tough game versus Notre Dame in South Bend. In the game Fromm was far from special, throwing for 141 yards in 29 attempts. He did have one touchdown, but also had an interception. The Georgia running back room and the defense really carried Georgia to a 20-19 win in South Bend. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for 136 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. The line-backing duo of Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter played great games, each registering a sack. So all in all, Georgia squeaked out a close one in South Bend, and they were now in the thick of College Football Playoff conversations.
Before we get any more into the 2017 season in Athens, I have some things to clear up. Jake Fromm was awesome his freshman year at Georgia. He was the perfect game-managing quarterback, who also developed into a top level starter by the end of his freshman year. It is what happened in Fromm’s later years that proves Smart can’t really develop a quarterback. However, after the victory over Notre Dame, things were looking pretty for Georgia.
Georgia went on to win the next two games by a combined score of 73-17. The opponents were a totally out-classed Samford, and a struggling Mississippi State team. In those two games Fromm was incredibly efficient. In the two games combined Fromm had 366 passing yards on 17-25 throwing. He also added on five passing touchdowns.
Georgia would go on to dominate a weaker schedule in the early part of the season. The Dogs beat Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Florida, and South Carolina by a combined score of 191-59 before their match-up with the tenth ranked Auburn Tigers. At this point the Dogs were just dominating teams with their exceptional defense, and efficient offense. Going into the Auburn game, Georgia was ranked number one in the nation.
Kirby Smart and company were a slight 2.5 point favorite on the road. Auburn was powered by a great ground attack featuring star back Kerryon Johnson, who was also a threat through the air. Auburn sacked Fromm four times that night, and he had the worst game of his young Georgia career. He was 13-28 throwing the ball for 184 yards and one touchdown. The Auburn defense was disciplined and tackled extremely well that night. The Tigers limited the tailback duo of Chub and Michel to 48 yards on a combined 20 carries.
The Auburn game is where some of the cracks in Georgia’s philosophy started to show. It was bound to happen at some point, but Auburn did the one thing no one else could that year, they shut down the running game. It is here that I point out that Fromm played in his first game where he was the one who had to carry the offense. With Auburn shutting down the ground attack, Fromm struggled heavily, completing less than 50% of his passes.
After the Auburn game, the Dogs dropped in the polls, but still had as good a chance as anybody to make the College Football Playoff. They went on to beat Kentucky 42-13, then beat their rival Georgia Tech 38-7. Just as fate would have it, the Dogs won the SEC East and would take on Auburn again in the SEC Championship game.
This time, the Bulldogs were prepared for the Auburn defensive attack. Michel, Chubb, and D’Andre Swift combined for 210 yards rushing, on 27 carries. They also only combined for one touchdown, so Fromm was once again needed to play at an elite level, and this time he was successful. The Bulldogs took a 10-7 lead into half-time, and never let it get any closer the rest of the game. Georgia were crowned SEC champions after defeating Auburn 28-7. The Bulldogs would be playing in the College Football Playoff, but their opponent was still a mystery.
When it was announced that the number three seeded Bulldogs would be heading west to take on the number two seed Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl. Georgia’s defense and running attack were the catalysts for them the entire season, and they were ready to take on Baker Mayfield, and the Sooner offense.
The 2017 Rose Bowl is still looked at as probably the best semi-final game since the College Football Playoff was formed in 2014. The Bulldogs went into the game as a slight 1.5 point under-dog. As soon as the opening whistle blew, all defense was thrown out the window and we were in for a barn burner! The Sooners won the first battle, taking a 31-17 lead into half time. However, in the third quarter, the Dogs put up 14 unanswered points, and going into the fourth quarter it was all knotted up at 31.
The fourth quarter of the 2017 Rose Bowl was as entertaining as any game I’ve watched in my life. The Bulldogs struck first, picking off Mayfield, and Fromm hitting Javon Wims in the end zone to put the Bulldogs up 38-31. The Sooners struck back quickly, as Mayfield hit Dimitri Flowers in the back of the end zone to tie the game once again at 38. The Bulldogs finally made a mistake. With seven minutes to go in the game, Sony Michel fumbled near the sideline, and it was scooped up by Sooner safety Steven Parker, who took it to the house to put Oklahoma up 45-38. It was time for Jake Fromm to step up, and he did, driving the Sooners to the red zone. On first and goal, Nick Chubb lined up in the Wildcat formation, and took the snap around the right end and into the end zone. We were going to overtime with the score tied at 45 a piece.
Both teams traded field goals in the first overtime, evening the score at 48 going into the second overtime. Oklahoma got possession first in the second overtime, and Georgia’s defense did it’s job. They halted the drive and forced Oklahoma to attempt a field goal. The field goal was blocked by Lorenzo Carter, and the Dogs needed only a field goal on their possession to take them to Louisiana to face off against rival Alabama in the national title. On the second play of overtime, Michel lined up in the Wildcat formation, and took the snap around the left end, picked up a block, and scampered into the end zone to send the Bulldogs to the National Championship.
The National Championship was to be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Louisiana. Georgia had lucked out this year, having a schedule that didn’t include Alabama. However, if anybody can stop Saban and the Tide, it has to be his former defensive coordinator, right? Well it sure seemed that way in the first half, as Georgia took a 13-0 lead into halftime.
In the second half, the two powerhouses punted it back and forth one time to start the final thirty minutes. With just under nine minutes to play, freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hit Henry Ruggs III for a touchdown to draw within six of the Bulldogs. Nick Saban had benched Jalen Hurts at half time after a poor first half where he went 3-8 throwing, for 21 yards. On the Bulldogs next possession, the Tide defense had forced Fromm and the Bulldog offense into a third and long situation. With a freshman quarterback, and still holding a slight lead, you’d think Kirby Smart would play it safe and run a draw or screen. Well, that was not the case, as Fromm hit receiver Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown pass, to extend their lead 20-7.
The two SEC giants traded interceptions on each of their next possessions. Tagovailoa was picked off by Deandre Baker, and then on the next play, Fromm was intercepted by Raekwon Davis, a Tide defensive lineman. Alabama cashed in on the turnover and hit a field goal to make the score 20-10 Georgia. This is when the Tide started putting more men in the box, forcing Fromm to throw for the win. Jake Fromm was not ready for that, and it showed on the field. After the Tide field goal, the Dogs drove into Alabama territory, but were forced to punt after Fromm missed an open Riley Ridley on third down. The next possession for the Dogs, was more of the same. Fromm only attempted one pass on that possession, and it didn’t even make it out of the backfield, as he was sacked, and the Dogs punted back to Alabama, still holding a slight lead 20-10.
The Tide would go on to hit a field goal and score a touchdown to tie the game at 20. After the Tide evened the score, From went out for the next possession and threw three straight incomplete passes, to give the ball back to Alabama with enough time remaining to win the game. However, Georgia got lucky and the Tide failed to score, sending the game into overtime.
The Bulldogs started with the ball in the first overtime. On 3rd and 6 from the Alabama 21, Fromm was sacked by Terrell Lewis for a thirteen yard loss, forcing a field goal attempt. One of the more reliable kickers in the country, Rodrigo Blankenship came on and put it through the uprights to give the Bulldogs at 23-20 lead.
On the ensuing Tide possession, things started extremely well for the Bulldogs. On first down Tagovailoa was sacked by Jonathan Ledbetter for a loss of sixteen yards, putting the ball all the way back to the Alabama 41. However, Saban had some magic up his sleeve. Tagovailoa took the snap and after a few seconds, launched a deep ball in the direction of then freshman receiver, Devonta Smith. Smith sped past the deep men for Georgia and caught the game-winning touchdown, ending Georgia’s year. The final score was Alabama 26, Georgia 23.
All in all, it was a tremendous season for Georgia and second year head coach Kirby Smart. No other college coach had taken his team to the national championship in the second year, except for Larry Coker in Miami and Gus Malzahn at Auburn, who took their respective teams to the national championship in their first years.
Looking into 2018, things were smelling like roses for Georgia and Georgia fans. They have a new star quarterback for at least two more years, they return a lot on the defensive side of the ball, and their new head coach just took them to a title game in his second year. However, like I said in the beginning of this series, Jake Fromm may have saved Kirby Smart’s job through 2018, but it’s what followed those years, that really made Kirby Smart the coach he is today. He can coach great defenses and running attacks, but he struggles in finding the right quarterback, and in finding the right one, he may have missed some others along the way.
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*Tomorrow the Focus of the series will be on the 2018 Georgia season and the years that followed. We will also briefly get into the JT Daniels scenario this year, before taking it head on, on Friday.
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