This was Kirby Smart after Jake Fromm, freshman backup, steadied and steered Georgia to a 31-10 victory over Appalachian State: “There’s not been a moment that’s too big for Jake Fromm since he was a little kid … He handled the game the way he handled our scrimmages.”
Fromm was pressed into early service because Jacob Eason, last year’s ballyhooed freshman, sprained his left knee while being shoved out of bounds and then shoved again on the Bulldogs’ third series. The first two yielded three-and-outs. The late-hit personal foul against Eason marked Georgia’s initial first down.
The first drive under Fromm moved the Bulldogs across midfield. The next three: Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. The game – which might have become a teeth-gnashing thing, given App State’s history – was settled with 6:56 remaining in the first half. No moment too big for Jake Fromm, who once led Warner Robins to the Little League World Series.
Playing in Williamsport, Pa., when you’re not yet a teenager? That’s a big deal. Taking the field for your home state’s flagship program in Quarter 1 of Game 1 of your Year 1? Bigger still. Up next: Notre Dame in South Bend. No moment too big for Jake Fromm – at least not yet.
Smart’s postgame prognosis regarding Eason wasn’t terribly revealing: “Sprained knee. We don’t know the extent past that. We’ll know more (Sunday) … We don’t know how long it’ll be.”
There are varying strains of knee sprains. Even the least dire can render an athlete inoperative from two to four weeks. I’m no orthopedist, but it would be remarkable if Eason plays at Notre Dame. That’s the ostensibly bad news, which some Georgia fans – let’s be honest – would take as glad tidings.
Eason arrived from Washington (the state) hailed as the Bulldogs’ next great quarterback. On cue, he played serious minutes in the 2016 opener against North Carolina, started the next week against Nicholls State and delivered the game-winning touchdown at Missouri the week after that. He very nearly beat Tennessee before Joshua Dobbs and Jauan Jennings intervened. The self-described skinny QB appeared on the fastest of tracks.
Then the track got muddy. The more you saw – again, let’s be honest – the more you wondered. Eason was demonstrably talented. (Big arm!) But if he was all that, why were his stats underwhelming? These were his passing yards in the games after Tennessee – 29 at South Carolina, 346 in a home loss to Vanderbilt (!), 146 in the annual loss to Florida, 245 in a narrow victory at Kentucky, 208 in the upset of Auburn, 165 against Louisiana, 139 in the come-from-ahead loss to Georgia Tech, 164 in the Liberty Bowl versus TCU.
Yes, he had Nick Chubb and Sony Michel behind him. Yes, Georgia’s offensive line was awful. Yes, Jim Chaney’s game plans, such as they were, careened from pillar to post. Still, Eason’s numbers – he finished 10th among SEC quarterbacks in completion percentage, 13th (of 15) in passer rating and 14th in yards per attempt. The best you could say was that he’d been pretty good for a freshman.
By season’s end, a gentle backlash had ensued. It was said that Eason had the arm but not the legs and maybe not the moxie. It was posited that his lofty recruiting status was due, at least in part, to the lack of competition in Washington. (Matthew Stafford hailed from Texas, Aaron Murray from Florida. Different stories there.)
When Fromm rushed out to replace the escorted-off Eason on Saturday, there were no groans from the Sanford Stadium gathering. There was, if these ears can be trusted, a veritable buzz. The newest new guy rose to the occasion. (No moment too big.) He completed 10 of 15 passes for 143 yards. Some weren’t the prettiest of throws, but they mostly got where they intended to go. He wasn’t sacked. He wasn’t intercepted. He didn’t fumble.
Granted, Appalachian State is not Notre Dame. A relief appearance in Athens isn’t to be confused with a starting assignment in South Bend. But Saturday night, Smart listed all the things his Bulldogs need to do, and this was included: “We’ve got to be able to throw the ball. Fromm can do that.”
The first half of the season’s first game wasn’t done before all manner of speculation had broken out in the press box, always a hothouse for all manner of speculation. Did Georgia have a Quarterback Controversy? Had Eason started his last game as a Bulldog? Would he transfer to Miami (where Mark Richt, who lured him to Athens, now coaches) at season’s end? Was he, to invoke the name of the luckless Yankee first baseman who took a day off and saw Lou Gehrig make every start for the next 14 years, a latter-day Wally Pipp?
It’s too soon to answer any of the above. On the first Saturday of September, all we knew for sure was that Jake Fromm of Houston County had met an unscheduled moment. As ever, it wasn’t too big.
Also from last night: Eason out. Fromm in. UGA looked pretty good anyway.