Georgia defeated Appalachian State 31-10 Saturday night in the season opener at Sanford Stadium, and there is only one talking point that anyone cares about in the aftermath, so let’s jump right into it.
I’m talkin’ kickers and punters, baby! GODriggo Blankenship was lights out on kickoffs, sending five of his six attempts into the end zone for touchbacks—something he did on only 20 of 55 kickoffs last season. Then there’s punter Cameron Nizialek, who didn’t allow a single return yard and consistently pinned the Mountaineers in their own half of the field. It’s still early, but with kicking unit like this …
Wait, you weren’t talking about the kicker and punter? You were talking about the injury to quarterback Jacob Eason and the brewing quarterback controversy stemming from a solid performance by freshman Jake Fromm in his stead? Well, I guess that makes sense.
Eason came into this season as the clear starter under center, despite cries from Georgia fans throughout the spring and summer that Fromm should get a shot at the job—basically ignoring the fact that Eason was a pretty dang good freshman QB last year. Fromm is short, doesn’t have long hair and is from Georgia: a scrapper. Eason is tall, long-locked and from the West Coast: a glory boy. Good ol’ boy Bulldog fans have been ready to throw Eason under the bus since the moment Fromm signed.
They finally got their chance on Saturday. After an unremarkable two drives to start the game, a late hit sent Eason to the locker room with a left knee injury. Kirby Smart indicated at halftime that Eason’s injury was just a knee sprain. Although we don’t know for certain yet, it doesn’t seem like he’ll miss a significant portion of the season and may not even miss the Notre Dame game next week. Only time will tell.
Fromm subbed in and the offense immediately started moving, and the QB controversy began in earnest. The freshman went 10-15 for 145 yards and one touchdown—not a great statline, but still one good enough for fans during and after the game to begin throwing Eason under the bus in favor of their new Fromm overlord. Especially considering in his two drives, Eason overthrew a few receivers, one of his biggest problems last season.
But fans who believe Fromm is the answer and are ready for Eason to hit the bricks need to slow their roll, because Fromm is not a solution to any of the problems that worried Georgia fans ahead of this season. He’s a step sideways at best, not a step forward.
Just look at how Fromm played against the Mountaineers. Yes, he had an encouraging performance, but he wasn’t the world-beater many fans tried to make him out to be both during and after the game. His stats were respectable, but he still had plenty of issues, notably forcing too many passes and staring down receivers. His highlight of the game, a 34-yard TD pass to Javon Wims in the second quarter, was thrown up for grabs and would likely have been picked by 80 percent of the defenses Georgia will face this season. On a third-and-goal in the second quarter, he had an opportunity for his second TD pass, but started directly at this receiver, never even hinting he was looking elsewhere. Georgia settled for a field goal.
His performance against Appalachian State was also pretty equivalent to Eason’s first game with a “G” on his helmet. Against UNC in last year’s season-opener, Eason was 8-12 for 131 yards and one TD. Like Fromm’s game on Saturday, that was nothing special, but it was serviceable, and it gave fans some hope to latch onto. But acting like Fromm is head-and-shoulders above where Eason was at this early point in his career is disingenuous.
There’s also the fact that even by Georgia’s vanilla offensive standards, Saturday featured a milquetoast offensive gameplan from the coaches. And that’s by design. Smart, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and many players have discussed new wrinkles the team added to the offense over the offseason, but none of those were broken out against the Mountaineers. Those are being saved for Notre Dame. Fromm wasn’t asked to do much, although he did do well with the most dressed-down version of this offense we’re likely to see all season. Who knows how that changes when the coaches decide to open the playbook?
In my mind, this scenario is pretty much worst-case for the Bulldogs. Whether we wanted one or not, we have a QB controversy now, or we’ll have one at some point in the future. If Eason starts this week and throws a few bad passes, fans will cry for Fromm. If Eason is out a month or two, then takes the job back from Fromm, fans will ask why Fromm isn’t still starting. If he misses the entire season and Fromm starts the whole thing, we’ll get to spend eight months of the offseason debating between Fromm and Eason. Any bad pass by Eason over his next two or three seasons at Georgia will be met by whispers and/or shouts of “Fromm.” Frankly, I’m already tired of it.
Make no mistake, Fromm playing well is far, far from a bad thing. I’m happy to know that Georgia has a backup QB who can step in in a pinch and keep the offense moving. But I don’t think he did anything in that game to prove he should be a starter, like many fans will say or have already said. Eason has a full year more in the system, more reps with the first team, and, not for nothing, he was named starter. If Smart thought Fromm gave the team a better chance to win, he would’ve started from the first snap.
That didn’t happen because Fromm isn’t ready. Just like Eason wasn’t ready last season. It takes time and growing pains for a freshman QB to improve. Eason has had that time and went through those growing pains, and I still think he’s the QB who gives Georgia the best shot to win this season. I, like everyone else, was impressed with Fromm. But he is not this team’s savior. If he keeps playing, those growing pains will come, and I’m afraid the offense this year will look a helluva lot like it did last year.
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