Georgia’s first play of the Rose Bowl was a pass: It was caught by Javon Wims for 21 yards. Georgia’s first touchdown came on a pass to Sony Michel. Georgia’s first lead came on a pass to Wims. Indeed, 29 of Georgia’s 63 offensive plays – not quite half, but not far off – were of the forward-pass variety.
And what, upon entering his hotel room and clicking on the TV after a long day in Pasadena did this correspondent hear? That Alabama’s defense would try to stop Georgia’s run and make the Bulldogs’ quarterback throw, because everybody knows Georgia’s quarterback can’t beat you with his arm.
Pardon my huffiness, but I’ve seen 10 of Georgia’s 14 games in person. I was there the night the rookie was pressed into service against Appalachian State. I was in Auburn on the day nothing went right. I was on hand for the second go-around against Auburn, when most everything did. I was in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. I’ve seen Jake Fromm throw the ball, and nary a one of his passes has been delivered end over end.
For the heck of it, here were the numbers of past Georgia freshmen flingers.
David Greene, 2001: 59.3 percent completion percentage; 8.6 yards per attempt; 17 touchdowns against nine interceptions; a passer rating of 143.3.
Matthew Stafford, 2006: 52.7 percent completion percentage; 6.8 yards per attempt; seven touchdowns against 13 interceptions; a passer rating of 109.
Aaron Murray, 2010: 61.1 percent completion percentage; 8.9 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns against eight interceptions; a passer rating of 154.5.
Jacob Eason, 2016: 55.1 percent completion percentage; 6.6 yards per attempt; 16 touchdowns against eight interceptions; a passer rating of 120.2.
Now Fromm: 63.7 percent completion percentage; 9.2 yards per attempt; 23 touchdowns against five interceptions; a passer rating of 166.4.
The previous four were not, let us say, chopped liver. Stafford would become the first player drafted in 2009. Eason was the No. 1 dropback passer of the 2016 recruiting class. Murray would become the SEC’s all-time leader in passing yards. Greene would become the NCAA’s all-time leader in victories as a quarterback.
Stafford and Eason started as freshmen, Greene and Murray as redshirt freshmen. Here’s where those first seasons wound up: Greene’s in the Music City Bowl (loss to Boston College); Stafford’s in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (comeback victory over Virginia Tech); Murray’s in the Liberty Bowl (loss to Central Florida), and Eason’s in the Liberty Bowl (victory over TCU). Georgia’s record in those four seasons: 8-4, 9-4, 6-7 and 8-5.
Fromm’s freshman season will conclude in the national championship game. His Bulldogs are 13-1. He has presided over an SEC championship, something only one of the above four managed. (Greene led Georgia to the conference title as a sophomore.) And Fromm has had, if you go by completion percentage and yards per attempt and interceptions and passer rating, the greatest season any Bulldogs freshman quarterback has ever managed. And he’s the guy who can’t throw?
I understand – to a point. What Georgia does best is run the ball. That’s not a criticism; that’s a nod to blatant reality. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are among the greatest tandems in the history of college football. (Your points of reference: Army’s Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside; Penn State’s Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris; SMU’s Pony Express, and USC’s Reggie Bush and LenDale White.) Had Jim Chaney opted to go all Hal Mumme with these backs at his disposal, he’d be the dumbest man who ever lived.
But to say Georgia prefers to run isn’t the same – it’s not even close to being the same – as saying Georgia can’t throw. Fromm had a better passer rating on New Year’s Day than Baker Mayfield, who just won the Heisman Trophy. Fromm also threw no interceptions to Mayfield’s one and was sacked three fewer times. Fromm’s team also won.
The two biggest passes on a day of offensive astonishments were thrown by the guy who can’t throw: His dodge of a sack and flip to Michel for 17 yards inside the final 2 1/2 minutes, and then the delayed slant to Terry Godwin for 16 yards on third-and-10 with just over a minute left. The freshman took his team to the tying touchdown with time flying. The famous Mayfield would get three more chances to win the game; he managed two first downs and a tying field goal at the end of the first overtime.
If you’re going to argue that Fromm’s arm isn’t a match for Stafford’s, I won’t rise to object. But this isn’t the NFL combine. This is the College Football Playoff, and Fromm’s team is still going. You can suggest that, with the advent of Justin Fields, Fromm mightn’t even be Georgia’s starter for much longer. (You’d be wrong, but feel free.) Here’s what I will say: Fromm has the chance to be the second freshman to start for a national champion, and the first -- Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway -- ran the Wishbone.
Jake Fromm isn’t the reason Georgia can’t beat Alabama. (Did not Bama recruit him like crazy?) Jake Fromm is one of the reasons Georgia might well beat Alabama. He doesn’t throw the ball all the time, but it isn’t because he can’t. He’s not a ride-along on the Chubb/Michel Express. He’s the counterpoint that has made this a championship offense. To claim otherwise is to endorse a demonstrably false narrative. To claim otherwise is #FakeNews.