Before everybody dives headfirst into the all-SEC national championship game (as every other conference covers its eyes) and the Jedi-Obi-Wan matchup of coaches, there’s someone who got overshadowed Monday night.
His name is Jake Fromm.
He wasn’t the first player most thought about after Georgia’s 54-48 win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, a game that had no shortage of heroes. There was game MVP Sony Michel, who ran for 181 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime. There was Nick Chubb, who rushed for 146 yards and two TDs and initially was announced as game MVP until presumably somebody suggested a change.
There was Lorenzo Carter, who blocked a field-goal attempt in overtime. There even was Georgia defense, which, after allowing four touchdowns and a field goal on Oklahoma’s first six possessions, gave up just 10 points the rest of the game (the Sooners’ defense accounted for their other touchdown).
But seemingly the biggest edge Oklahoma had in this game was quarterback Baker Mayfield (Heisman Trophy winner) vs. Jake Fromm (freshman).
The difference between the two wasn’t so obvious after all. Fromm completed 20 of 29 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He committed no turnovers. Mayfield (23-for-25, 287 yards, two TDs) might have made more big plays, but he also made more mistakes. He threw an interception that led to a Georgia touchdown and he was sacked five times, two or three of which could have been avoided if he got rid of the ball.
Michel’s 27-yard winning touchdown was run out of the wildcat formation. Fromm lined up wide left – and he threw a key block. He also completed passes to Michel (17 yards) and Terry Godwin (16) on the touchdown drive that tied the score at 45-45 with 55 seconds left in regulation, sending the game into overtime. He checked into and out of plays with remarkable efficiency.
What became clear against Oklahoma, if it wasn’t clear already: Fromm has evolved from relative game manager to a starting quarterback who can make plays to win a game.
Carl Banks, the former New York Giants all-Pro linebacker, tweeted late in the game, “I would argue that the Georgia QB Jake Fromm has shown more NFL preparedness than Mayfield with the way he is getting his offense in and out of good plays.”
We knew from previous games that Fromm likely would not be rattled by the stage of a playoff game. We saw it in his first start at Notre Dame. He made mistakes, but it wasn’t the result of nerves.
It follows that Fromm won’t be shaken when Kirby Smart and Georgia go against Nick Saban and Alabama in next week’s national championship game at Mercedes Benz Stadium. He has exceeded expectations from the moment he stepped in for the injured Jacob Eason, who was “Wally Pipp’d.” (Kids: Google.)
“Jake continues to grow as a player,” Smart said. “He puts us in the right play. He makes good decisions with the ball. He protects the ball. He does a lot of good things, and I'm really proud of his growth. I think the kid has a bright future.”
Fromm impressed Mayfield. After the game, the Oklahoma quarterback sought his counterpart and gave him a hug and words of encouragement on the field.
“Obviously I would have liked to have been on the other side of things, but I was taking in the last moments with my teammates and also trying to find Jake Fromm," Mayfield said in comments reported by the Dallas Morning News. “You know, the true freshman that led his team to a playoff victory. You don't typically see that. He's an incredible player. "
More from Mayfield: "You can tell he commands his offense and he has respect of his teammates," Mayfield said. "For me, that's about the greatest character trait you could have. Just told him to go win the whole thing. Got a lot of respect for him and keep working hard. For him, I think the sky's the limit."