Georgia football: 3 primary problems with the Bulldogs' passing game
If there’s one thing Georgia can be thankful for, it’s that it left Auburn with a win Saturday to clinch the SEC East for the 3rd consecutive year.
We’ve long known what the defense, 4th quarter notwithstanding against the Tigers, is capable of doing. But what about the offense? Nine 3-and-outs and 11 punts later, there’s more than a little concern that needs to be addressed on that side of the ball — particularly in the passing game.
You basically know what you’re going to get from Jake Fromm on a weekly basis. But at the end of the day, there are some things that he and the coaching staff need to come to terms with before it costs them a win.
A much-too conservative approach
When Fromm hit Dominick Blaylock with a 51-yard touchdown pass in the 1st quarter, it looked like it would be the first of several big plays over the top of the Auburn defense. And while Fromm tried another long pass later in the game, it ended up incomplete.
Take away Fromm’s lone big play and he was 12-of-27 for 59 yards on everything else.
The vast majority of his passes lacked aggression. A 1st quarter screen pass to D’Andre Swift went for a loss of 3 yards. A 2nd one, this coming in the 2nd quarter to Blaylock, ended with a loss of 1 yard. To his credit, Fromm did throw several passes into the flats and along the sideline that did gain yardage. But the fear is that it might be starting to become a little predictable, and while you can’t pass the ball if there’s no one to throw to, Fromm must do a better job of relying on his speedier receivers to stretch the field along the sideline and test the opposing cornerbacks.
The health of Lawrence Cager
I was really hoping to see what Lawrence Cager could do against the Auburn defense.
Cager had broken out with a 7-catch, 132-yard, 1-touchdown performance against Florida and followed that with a 6-catch, 93-yard night against Missouri before being forced to leave due to injury. He played against Auburn, but made 1 catch for 6 yards and had to exit after a hit he sustained in the first half caused a flare-up of his injury.
Although it’s not anyone’s fault, that’s certainly a key problem with the passing game. Cager was developing into a genuine top-level receiving threat while seeing his targets increase each week. The last thing the Dawgs need is having the grad transfer unable to play for an extended period. It might not matter as much in the final 2 games of the regular season, but it certainly will beyond that.
A dip in production from Jake Fromm
Fromm has never put up monster passing numbers. But while he’s thrown for 7 touchdowns in his past 3 games, his yardage totals and completion percentage have dropped.
Fromm’s high for the year in yardage is 295, set against South Carolina in October and his 4th game of 279 yards or more. He’s completing 64.8% of his passes this season but has been below 50% in each of his past 2 games.
A couple of things changed in the past 2 outings: In the win against Missouri on Nov. 9, Fromm was 13-of-29, a career-worst 44.8 percent. On Saturday against Auburn, he completed the same number of passes but with 1 fewer attempt, giving him a 46.4 percent mark. His 110 yards Saturday were his 2nd-lowest total of the season and the 5th-lowest yardage total of his career.
It’s important to note a few things.
First, Fromm was 9-of-12 for just 35 yards against Kentucky, but that’s an outlier because the conditions were so poor. Second, the 4 other games where he finished with fewer than 110 yards were in 2018 against UMass and in 2017 against Vanderbilt, Florida and Tennessee. He split duties with Justin Fields in that UMass game, threw 11 times against Vanderbilt, had just 7 attempts against Florida as the Dawgs ran right through the Gators, and just 15 times against Tennessee as, again, the Dawgs running game did the majority of the work.
Against the Tigers on Saturday, outside of the Blaylock touchdown, Fromm didn’t have another completion longer than 13 yards. Only 4 completions all day covered more than 10 yards. That continued a season-long lack of explosive games. Fromm has completed just 23 passes covering 20+ yards. Kyle Trask and Bo Nix have 36 and 31, respectively.
While part of Saturday’s issues were due in part to Auburn’s defense, the Bulldogs’ offensive staff simply couldn’t find a way for the passing game to get going. And with a Texas A&M defense looming that’s given up just over 195 yards through the air, they’ll face another challenge.