Each week during the season, we re-watch that week’s Georgia football game in order to gain more insight, observations and just plain make sure we didn’t miss anything. This week we re-watch Georgia’s 31-10 win over Appalachian State, and zero in on Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm, but also the offensive line and defense – and what it all means for the showdown at Notre Dame.
JACOB EASON’S BRIEF GAME
If Eason had never gotten hurt, it’s very possible, even probable, that he would have gone on to play well, led Georgia to a comfortable win, and anybody judging him on his first three passes and two fruitless drives would have been laughed out of Sanford Stadium.
But Eason did get hurt. So as we go into the great unknown of the next few days, weeks and months, we are left to dissect those first nine minutes of the game, and whether they reinforce red flags about Eason from last year, or whether we’re just being silly.
Eason’s first pass was in a three-wide set, and Eason went rather quickly to Jackson Harris for a negligible gain. Nick Chubb was actually alone on the left side, but Eason never looked at him. It may not have gained much more than the quick pass to Harris, but Eason didn’t even look his way.
The second pass, the overthrow of Isaac Nauta on third down, appeared to be a case of rushing his throw under pressure. Right guard Dyshon Sims couldn’t stop a linebacker who had blitzed off a stunt, and Eason threw off the wrong foot.
Eason didn’t attempt a pass on the second series, scrambling for no gain on third down. It looked like coverage was good, but Eason also appeared to misjudge where he should run, scrambling left when there was more room right. There were times last year Eason created a chance by scrambling to give his receivers time to get open. That time he didn’t.
Eason’s third pass, the overthrow to Javon Wims, was just one of those simple passes that Eason sailed on last year. It was why his completion percentage was only 55 percent. It was why the coaches emphasized improving that in the offseason. And it was why when the next guy came in, things changed.
JAKE FROMM’S FIRST IMPRESSION
Fromm’s immediate effect was just accuracy. He hit Nauta in the numbers, then Hardman in the hands on an out pattern, and that’s why the offense started clicking. As Kirby Smart pointed out afterwards, it’s not like they put in a different tempo package.
The first really good run of the day also happened when Fromm came in, a 10-yard cut to the outside by Sony Michel. That was mainly just better blocking, but credit to Fromm for running the play correctly, something you can’t take for granted from a true freshman suddenly thrust into action.
Fromm’s most impressive pass of the night was the 25-yard strike down the middle to Javon Wims late in the first quarter. Fromm stood strong in the pocket and just hit Wims perfectly.
After the first touchdown drive, the camera caught Kirby Smart grabbing Fromm by the jersey and pushing him into the receiver’s huddle. Almost a message: “Hey, you’re the starter now, get with your guys.”
In the rush to anoint Fromm, a couple plays to remember: On his first drive, he overthrew Michael Chigbu near the sideline, but if he had thrown it better it would’ve been an interception. Fromm didn’t check the coverage before he threw the pass, and didn’t see the cornerback was right there.
The scoring drive that Fromm probably had the least to do with was the one that ended with his touchdown pass: The 34-yard TD to Wims was his only completion of the drive, and Fromm shouldn’t have thrown it. It was into triple coverage, and Wims saved the play with the leap-and-snatch. It was the play of the game, I’d say.
Fromm got clocked on the play, so he deserves credit for his toughness. Hard to tell a guy after the fact if he should’ve done something other than throw it, but he did get lucky on that one.
In fact, Fromm got lucky again on the next drive. He rushed a pass again and heaved the ball to the right side for Terry Godwin, who would have been wide open had the throw been delivered on time and on target. But there was a pass interference call, which set up another touchdown run.
Sometimes lucky is part of someone’s aura. Sometimes it’s just luck.
A KEY POINT ON FROMM-EASON
Many people’s takeaway was the offense moved not just better but quicker with Fromm. Well, there was a reason for that.
When Eason was in the game, Georgia averaged 24 seconds between plays, by my count. (Not counting first downs.).
The tempo did immediately pick up on the drive Fromm entered, but mainly because of completions. The time between plays after completions averaged 11 seconds on that drive. But there were also two incompletions on that drive, and the next play then took 25 and 32 seconds, respectively.
The next few drives with Fromm in there mirrored that. A good play tended to lead to a quick play, while an incompletion led to the team regrouping and taking longer to get the next play in.
The point: Georgia’s tempo only seemed faster with Fromm because he was completing passes. But Fromm was completing those passes, leading to that quick tempo, while Eason was not.
GEORGIA’S OFFENSE IN GENERAL
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney kept it simple, especially after the Jacob Eason injury. Eason did operate out of the shotgun, and there were some diverse sets, but nothing elaborate in the play-calling. That’s definitely understandable, given the opponent. You have to imagine that if the game was uncomfortably close in the second half that you might have seen something more interesting.
You also have to imagine that some deep strikes were planned for Eason. Then he left, and the play script probably shrunk about 50 percent with Fromm.
So what to think of Chaney’s play-calling this year? Well, let’s wait a week.
Similarly, this game didn’t answer many questions on the offensive line. They didn’t dominate, but didn’t get manhandled either. It was rough early, then got better as the game went on. Was that a good sign, or did App State’s defense just wear down?
It was evident that Georgia couldn’t just push back the line on every run, which isn’t encouraging. But Solomon Kindley’s absence may have hurt that. App State having six tackles-for-loss in the game isn’t a wholly encouraging sign either.
Blocking all around will have to improve: On the first carry of the game, when Chubb was dropped for a big loss, the line did actually hold, with no defenders at or beyond the line of scrimmage. But no one picked up No. 10, strong safety A.J. Howard, who made the initial hit, and then cornerback Clifton Duck came up and made the tackle for a 3-yard loss.
The pass blocking also could’ve been better. There was only one sack for a 1-yard loss, but Eason had to scramble and Fromm had to get rid of the ball while hit.
Nothing major stuck out about Andrew Thomas in his college debut, though it bears noting that he stayed in there until the fourth quarter, when Ben Cleveland and other reserves entered. Kendall Baker was the sixth man on Saturday, coming in at both guard spots, first for Dyshon Sims and then Pat Allen. There also didn’t seem a discernible difference in the lineups, good or bad.
But the second half, especially the third quarter, was encouraging. Georgia’s first drive saw it just hand the ball to Chubb and Michel over and over, and the Bulldogs were able to pound it downfield, though it stalled inside the 10. The next drive was also run-dominated, sandwiched around the long fourth-down Fromm-to-Wims completion.
We harped last year on how the blocking was better when Christian Payne was in there. We’ll harp again. Payne wasn’t in there that much as a classic fullback in the I-formation, but he was when Chubb sprung up the middle in for his 8-yard touchdown in the third quarter. And earlier in the game, at the goal-line in the first quarter, Payne wasn’t in the game when Georgia gave the ball to Chubb, and he was stopped. Then Payne went in, and though his block didn’t spring Chubb, a push from the line did get him in.
App State’s few big gains mostly came when opening up the field and getting the balls to guys in space, or having QB Taylor Lamb run it. On Lamb’s 32-yard run on the second drive, too many defenders bought on an inside fake. That’s a play Notre Dame, with a faster quarterback, will be trying to replicate. There was also a 23-yard pass out of the backfield that appeared to be a designed dump-off, spreading the field and getting it to someone else in space.
App State just couldn’t run the ball consistently because it couldn’t get a consistent push. Not surprisingly, the challenge should be tougher for Georgia next week: Notre Dame’s line returned four starters this year, who had a combined 75 career starts, and comes in an average of 21 pounds per player heavier:
LT Mike McGlinchey … 6-8, 320
LG Quentin Nelson … 6-5, 330
C Sam Mustipher … 6-2, 305
RG Alex Bars …. 6-6, 310
RT Tommy Kraemer …. 6-5, 310
LT Victor Johnson …. 6-5, 290
LG Tobias Edge-Campbell … 6-2, 294
C Noah Hannon …. 6-2, 260
RG Colby Gossett …. 6-6, 320
RT Beau Nunn …. 6-4, 306
Aaron Davis showed on App State’s first drive why the Bulldogs need him back. Davis snuffed out a swing pass attempt on third-and-6, recognizing the play shaking off his blocking receiver to come up and make the tackle. That’s something an experienced senior has seen a lot, and as bright a future as Tyrique McGhee, Deangelo Gibbs or Ameer Speed may have, it’s fraught with risks to have them out there learning on the fly.
Re-watching J.R. Reed’s big sack on the second drive — which pretty much ended all hopes for App State on its best drive of the first three quarters — a great job by Reed to just push away his guy and go after the quarterback. That was an assertive play for someone playing his first game for Georgia.
Something I noticed during pass plays is Georgia’s linebackers stayed very disciplined, holding to their lanes, obviously trying to seal off Lamb’s scrambling ability. It worked, as Lamb’s rushing yardage mainly came from designed keepers.
Freshman Richard LeCounte seemed to have a solid debut. Though he drew Kirby Smart’s wrath a couple times, possibly for extracurricular chatter, LeCounte stayed on the field awhile, including to the fourth quarter. In fact, when Lamb scrambled up the middle for his 20-yard touchdown, against a defense full of reserves, LeCounte was the only one who almost snuffed it out, racing across to grab Lamb, but it was too late.
Summation: Georgia’s first-team defense played very effectively, but on re-watch there are things that Notre Dame could exploit. Mainly, faster and more athletic players getting the ball in space and racking up yardage. And Kirby Smart, Mel Tucker and company doubtlessly are aware of that. The secondary, largely untested in this game, could be vulnerable against bigger and faster receivers. And while Georgia’s front seven is really good, the match-up with Notre Dame is good-on-good.
- Chubb, who spoke in the preseason about feeling like his quickness is back, did look better taking angles and going around the edges.
- D’Andre Swift wasn’t eased in: He lined up in the slot on Georgia’s fifth play of the game. He could turn out to be this year’s Isaiah McKenzie in the sense of someone that Jim Chaney pinpoints as a playmaker and finds way to get him the ball.
- Wee bit of a rough start for Tommy Tuberville, who in the first quarter referred to Sam “Coleman” when he clearly meant Pittman, and when he later got Pittman’s name right, Tuberville called him the offensive coordinator. (Soon after you could hear Tuberville saying “OK … OK” on air, and it’s a good guess someone in his ear was reminding him that the coordinator is Jim Chaney.) Tuberville also referred to “David” Bellamy. The second time Tuberville referred to “David” Bellamy, Mike Patrick followed up by referring to him as the leading tackler on last year’s defense, apparently mistaking him for Roquan Smith. (On a side note, I’d hate for my various typos to be on full display. Patrick historically has been one of the best, and Tuberville may just need to work through some jitters.)
- Tuberville was also a bit tough on Lamont Gaillard, in the first quarter saying the junior “has no experience. That might be one of their weak points early in the season.” We’ll see how Gaillard adjusts to center, but he did start every game last year at right guard.
- Interestingly, perhaps only to me, Tuberville did point out that “Georgia was behind in facilities, but is now catching up,” adding that Georgia is “now throwing in its hat to try to win championships.” Guess Tubby’s been reading this site.
This game didn’t really move the needle too much on what to expect this season for Georgia, other than that the little matter of who will be the quarterback. And even then, it’s debatable whether Eason, if he is out a while, will be sorely missed, or going to Fromm is a blessing in disguise. There’s not enough evidence either way right now, just as there isn’t on whether Georgia’s offensive line is improved, or how good the defense can be. More definitive answers will have to wait a week. At least a week.
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