Jake Fromm didn’t muff a punt Saturday. He didn’t drop a touchdown. And he didn’t play defense.
But what Fromm did — start at quarterback for Georgia — wasn’t good enough Saturday, as he and the rest of the top-ranked Bulldogs were blitzed 40-17 by the No. 10 Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Fromm, in his biggest test on the road to this point, didn’t have his best day. Far from it. He completed only 46.4 percent (13 of 28) of his attempts for 184 yards and a touchdown. By percentage, it was the worst showing of the true freshman’s career, a tick lower than his 46.7 completion rate at Tennessee, a game that ended far differently for Georgia, as it won 41-0.
At least at the onset, it appeared Fromm could be on his way to a banner outing. On the game’s opening possession, Fromm went 3-for-3 for 56 yards, as Nick Chubb punched it in from the 1-yard line to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.
That was about as good as it got for Georgia, though.
The Tigers clawed their way back, scoring 30 unanswered points before the Bulldogs finally got back on the board in the third quarter thanks to a field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship. But by then, Auburn’s victory was well in hand, as was the fleeting status of Georgia as one of the last unbeaten teams in the FBS.
It’s not as if Fromm was the only Bulldog who struggled Saturday. The running game never got going, as Chubb and backfield mates Sony Michel, D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield combined for just 72 yards on 26 yards. (For those not into doing their own math, that comes out to just 2.8 yards per carry.) The vaunted defense did the Bulldogs no favors, either, as it had its worst showing of the season in terms of points and yards allowed. And the offensive line found it difficult on two fronts — opening up running lanes for the backs as well as keeping pressure off Fromm.
Fromm was sacked four times for 37 yards and “hurried” six other times. But those “hurries” are merely the official stats. Time and again, Auburn forced Fromm to get rid of it far more quickly than he or the coaching staff would have liked. Fromm also fumbled once, as he had trouble finding his footing in the pocket before unblocked Auburn defensive tackle Dontavius Russell leveled the signal-caller with a hit to knock the ball out. Georgia was fortunate on this occasion, as offensive lineman Kendall Baker jumped on it to keep possession.
And there is at least one play Fromm would like to have back. In the second quarter, on a rare moment of reprieve from the Tigers’ pass-rushing onslaught, receiver Riley Ridley was open over the middle of the field after his defender slipped. But Fromm led Ridley too far, leaving him unable to secure the pass for a near-certain touchdown.
All in all, Fromm didn’t play terrible. It just wasn’t great, either.
Afterward, Georgia coach Kirby Smart had Fromm’s back, saying he thought his quarterback made “good decisions” given the circumstances.
“Jake is a battler,” Smart said. “If he showed anything tonight, it was that he can move in the pocket. They have some good rushers. That front is a really good front. We showed the ability at the end to still be able to move the ball and throw it when they had the good rushers still in. At the end of the day, I thought Jake played well. He played hard and made good decisions.”
Smart was also asked about the play-calling: Why, after the Bulldogs moved the ball so effectively through the air on their opening drive, did they throw just five more times in the first half?
“With Auburn, if you throw it every play, you get in trouble because they have really good pass rushers,” Smart said. “The threat to run the ball has to slow down their pass rushers. We tried to maintain that threat. We just didn’t do a good job running it.”
As per usual following defeats like this, Fromm-related questions will follow: Was the moment too big for him? Could he have played better, or did he muster the best outing he could in light of the offensive line’s repeated breakdowns? Should Georgia have considered potentially bringing Jacob Eason off the bench in an attempt to jump-start the offense?
Some of those questions are more fair than others. Such is life as a starting quarterback. You receive too much adulation and credit in victory, and too much derision and second-guessing in defeat.
After beginning his career as a starter 8-0, Fromm is facing his first bit of adversity.
How he responds will determine whether the Bulldogs stay in the College Football Playoff hunt, or end the season as they have every year since the 1980 campaign ended: without a national championship.