Why Justin Fields, Jacob Eason couldn’t beat out Jake Fromm at UGA

The argument over which quarterback is better – Jake Fromm, Justin Fields or Jacob Eason – can be fun or frustrating, depending on one’s tolerance for such debates. But from the Georgia Bulldogs’ standpoint, they need only for Fromm to do what he does for them.

And, frankly, he needs to it a little better, especially against Tennessee on Saturday.

Every fan base likes to sing the praises of their respective guy. When it comes to Georgia, there may not have been a better – or more beloved -- quarterback than Fromm. That basically starts and ends with the fact that the Bulldogs have won a lot and won significant games with him at the controls.

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As No. 3 Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC) heads to Knoxville on Saturday to take on the downtrodden Volunteers (1-3, 0-1), the Bulldogs are winning at a greater rate behind Fromm than they have with any other three-year starter at quarterback in school history. Georgia is 28-5 with him as the QB of record (that includes his first game in which he played all but the first nine snaps). That’s an .848 winning percentage, which out-paces even David Greene, who won 80.7 percent of the games he started for the Bulldogs from 2001-04.

Meanwhile, Fields and Eason have played exceptionally well in their one-third seasons at Ohio State and Washington, respectively. Many pundits are declaring already that they are better than Fromm, based on the gaudy numbers they’ve produced.

Side-by-side-by-side, theirs indeed look better.

  • Fields: 81-of-116 passing (69.8%), 1,092 yards, 16 TDs, 0 interceptions, 194.43 pass-efficiency rating;
  • Eason: 103-of-145 (71.0%), 1,243 yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs, 163.03 rating.
  • Fromm: 62-of-82 (75.6%), 788 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INTs, 180.48 rating.

As for Eason and Fields, either, both or neither may end up being a greater overall quarterback than Fromm; all of that will play itself out eventually. But the fact remains, neither was able to beat out Fromm while with the Bulldogs. That’s because neither could do as well what Georgia asks their quarterbacks -- and Fromm, in particular -- to do.

That would be run a pro-style system with complete autonomy to change any play at any time at the line of scrimmage.

About Fromm’s ability to do that and do that well for Georgia, coach Kirby Smart will go on and on.

“Jake does a great job leading our team, our offense," Smart said. "He understands the game of football really well. He handles protections. He handles a lot of what the defense does and gives to us and takes from us, and he does a nice job of managing that. We put a lot on his shoulders.”

As for Fields and Eason have been doing this season, Smart is considerably more terse: “I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t seen them much. My focus is on Tennessee right now, and I’m grinding on Tennessee.”

While getting past Tennessee at Neyland Stadium might seem a minimal challenge, given the Bulldogs’ status as 24-point favorites and their recent success against the Vols, the fact is, Fromm hasn’t played particularly well against Tennessee.

Georgia has won the past two meetings by the aggregate score of 79-12, but Fromm’s performance in those games was relatively pedestrian. He threw one touchdown pass and one interception in the 41-0 victory two years ago in Knoxville, while also rushing for two scores. Last year, Fromm neither ran nor threw for a touchdown.

Combined, Fromm was 23-of-37 for 269 yards passing in the two contests, but he was also sacked five times, including three last season at Sanford Stadium. To put that in perspective, his quarterback rating in those games was 81.93, well below Fromm’s QB rating for this season (129.52) and his career (116.42).

Where Fromm distinguishes himself is in the same area he used to best Fields and Eason when they were at Georgia – his mind. Fromm’s innate ability to recognize what defenses are trying to do against the Bulldogs and audible out of one play and into another based on it is what sets him apart.

“Jake takes things that are broke and fixes them,” Smart said. “He makes wrongs right. The guy makes good decisions.”

Sophomore center Trey Hill said Fromm makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage almost every play.

“You have to be on your toes for it,” Hill said. “You have to know the audibles ’cause you know they’re coming.”

That will be particularly important Saturday because the Vols have inside intel. Fromm credits Tennessee's Jim Chaney, his offensive coordinator at UGA the past two years, for honing his audible abilities. As a result, the Bulldogs have had to adjust their signals and verbal-checks lingo.

Fromm has been open about wanting to improve this season in the vertical passing game, avoiding pressure and throwing on the run, and he’s done that. But he’ll probably never be able to match Eason and Fields in those areas.

It’s those line-of-scrimmage adjustments that truly sets Fromm apart.

“I’m not always right,” he said. “I wish I was, but I’m not. Stuff happens. But for us, as long as everybody is on the same page, we think we’re going to get into a good play and we can make a bad play a good play, especially with the talent we have.”