ATHENS -- Officially, it was First Down No. 1 of the season that had started with two three-and-outs. In the grand scheme – and we stipulate that we can’t speak too grandly until we know the full extent of Jacob Eason’s knee injury – Georgia’s eighth snap of Game No. 1 might be a play that changes a season.
The initial reaction is to say that no team, duh, would be as good if its No. 1 quarterback is forced to miss significant time. And we concede that what transpired here Saturday – Georgia beat Appalachian State 31-10 – represents a small sample size against a non-Power 5 opponent. But there are those close to this program who believe that Jake Fromm, the freshman from Houston County High, might be Eason’s peer as a quarterback.
Not as a thrower of passes, mind you. Eason’s arm is demonstrably superior. But maybe as a quarterback. And Fromm did nothing in his first collegiate action to make us believe that, should he be the starter next Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium, the Bulldogs would be overmatched.
Chances are that Eason, who had completed 1 of 3 passes for four yards before exiting, would have found his feet against App State. The Mountaineers’ talent isn’t to be confused with Georgia’s. Still, it’s a matter of record that the Bulldogs, who’d gone nowhere, began to make haste once Fromm entered. He completed three passes for modest yardage in his first series. In his second, he found Isaac Nauta for 16 yards and Javon Wims for 25. In third, he stood fast against a fierce rush to loft – that’s the proper verb – a ball that Wims, leaping between defenders, caught at the 2 and extended over the goal line.
That made the score 14-0. The Sanford Stadium audience, which hadn’t taken kindly to those opening three-and-outs, relaxed. Nobody expected to see Fromm play in Quarter No. 1 of Game No. 1, but circumstances intervened. He was the quarterback. Georgia was moving and scoring. (It was 21-0 with 6:56 remaining in the half.) A Georgia guy – not unlike Tarkenton and Goff and Belue and Lastinger and Zeier (sort of) and Greene and Shockley – was taking the snaps. There are worse things than that.
At halftime, Georgia coach Kirby Smart told sideline reporter Chuck Dowdle that Eason “had a little bit of a knee sprain,” which is obviously better than a tear but not nothing, either. Even a Grade II sprain can cost an athlete as much as a month, and over the next four weeks Georgia faces the aforementioned Fighting Irish, Samford, Mississippi State and Tennessee.
(Wait. Didn’t we say that such speculation should be avoided? Do as I say, not as I do.)
Removing the quarterback issue from the mix, it must be said that Georgia looked pretty good. It didn’t mess around with App State, as Tennessee did a year ago, and it didn’t lose to the Mountaineers, as Michigan famously did. It ran the ball well, which you’d figure. Its receivers made plays for Fromm. The offensive line didn’t exactly road-grade, but it got a push. The defense didn’t allow its visitor to come within sniffing distance of a touchdown – or even a field goal -- until Brice Ramsey, the No. 3 quarterback, threw the first of two fourth-quarter interceptions. In sum, this was not another Nicholls State.
That said, no team wins anything of consequence without a capable quarterback. Eason was such a big recruit that it was once believed he might buy Mark Richt another year – he didn’t, as it happened – and he was starting in the second game of his freshman season. He had some moments, from the comeback at Missouri to the astonishing almost-win against Tennessee, but he finished 10th among SEC quarterbacks in completion percentage and 14th in yards per pass. He was good for a freshman, which isn’t the same as being good for a quarterback.
His two incompletions were wild high. (As we say of baseball pitchers: Big arm, needs work on his command.) Then he scrambled right and was nudged out of bounds by linebacker Devan Stringer. That was a legal hit. Nose tackle Myquon Stout, unable to halt the momentum that comes from carrying 275 pounds, delivered one that was not. Eason’s left knee buckled as he fell. He rose slowly. Then, in the middle of the field, he crumpled to the turf. He wouldn’t play again.
Fromm entered and acquitted himself nicely. He completed 10 of 15 passes for 143 yards. He spent the second half mostly handing off, which made sense. He did complete an out on fourth-and-4 from the App State 36. (Wims was wide open.) Soon it was 31-0 and the Bulldogs were, not to sound like Belichick, on to South Bend. There’s a real chance a freshman from Warner Robins will lead the Bulldogs onto that hallowed sod.