Come on, Kirby Smart. It’s time for a change.
For No. 8 Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) to stay in the running for the SEC Championship — which is still possible, really — it needs Justin Fields under center permanently at quarterback.
As vividly illustrated in Saturday’s unexpected 36-16 loss at LSU, the Bulldogs, for whatever reason, are unable to find a steady rhythm with sophomore Jake Fromm at the position. It’s not for lack of playmakers. The Bulldogs have an explosive group of wide receivers and sure-handed tight ends, but Fromm is continually unable to find the open man when Georgia is yearning for a big play or simply a first down.
The answer to the problem with drives stalling in key situations is to plug wildly-talented freshman Fields in as starter for the rest of the way and see if production doesn’t improve. This is a crucial time in the schedule for Georgia, which after a bye, has SEC games against Florida, Kentucky and Auburn all one after the other with no time to rest.
Given the Bulldogs’ woeful performance offensively against LSU, it leaves anyone paying attention skeptical if Georgia can run the table with Fromm taking the snaps in these three tough league games.
The Bulldogs are still in control of their own destiny with regards to making it to Atlanta for what is almost guaranteed to be a date against No. 1 Alabama for the SEC title. Don’t smirk, stranger things have happened.
To be fair to all involved, Fromm hasn’t received the best protection up front with an ever-changing offensive line after an early injury to Isaiah Wilson and the more recent leg injury of starting guard Ben Cleveland. The Bulldogs had two freshmen and a pair of sophomores up front to start against LSU.
A pocket quarterback like Fromm being forced to scramble and get rid of the ball prematurely isn’t exactly a formula for success.
However, twice in the first half Fromm went three passes and out as the Bulldogs dropped behind 16-0 to the Tigers.
Twice, maybe three times, against the Tigers, Fromm didn’t spot wide open receivers in the end zone. Each occasion could have resulted in 6 points. Instead he locked in on receivers drawing double coverage and unsuccessfully tried to thread the needle.
Fromm was only 16-of-34 passing for 207 yards against LSU, while the dynamic Fields never attempted a throw during only five plays on the field.
In fact, Fields’ only run of 3 yards was late in the third quarter when the Bulldogs were trying to dig out of a 19-3 hole.
Not exactly a high probability of success for a freshman, no matter how poised a player he is.
So what’s the answer? Start Fields.
Why? He presents another runner to account for on every play to go along with a great crop of running backs (Elijah Holyfield, D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien and James Cook).
Fromm is not a threat to run, which gives opposing defenses one less ball carrier to account for while Georgia’s offense is on the field.
At this point, concerns about Fields’ acumen in the passing game should be minimal. He showed through the first six games, when given a chance, that he was comfortable in the pocket and not afraid to stand in there and take a hit if necessary.
Sure, there have been some early cupcakes for Georgia on the schedule. But it was in real-game situations.
In the past, it was a shaky proposition to start a freshman at quarterback in the SEC — or any major level of college football. However, given the wide-open game plans run at the high school game, quarterbacks are more comfortable starting right away at the college level. Look at the success in recent years of Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence (both at Clemson) that has proven first-year players can step in and play right away without skipping a beat on offense.
If Fields were to be named starter, it would be the third consecutive year that Georgia has gone with a true freshman at quarterback (Jacob Eason in 2016, and Fromm in 2017).
Georgia has such a bevy of capable backs that Fields doesn’t need to throw the ball 25 times a game. Holyfield can run over defenders when he gets a head of steam, while Swift — the speedier option of the two — has picked up right where he left off in 2017.
If Fields starts, he will make mistakes along the way.
However, at this point, he needs to play in order to keep Georgia in the running for the SEC title.
Fromm will forever have a well-deserved spot in the hearts of fans for the fantastic work he did leading the Bulldogs to the national championship game last season. However, a better option has presented itself for Georgia.
Now it’s time to let Fields take the torch and run with it.
Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Bill_Murphy313 on the Twitter.