How Jake Fromm and D'Andre Swift could accomplish a rare SEC feat in the 21st century
Both stepped on campus at Athens in 2017 with daunting roadblocks standing in their way of playing time. Even as blue-chip recruits, it was still impressive to watch how well both maximized their opportunity and became key figures in getting Georgia to its first national championship game in 37 years. For the second year in a row, both are preseason Heisman Trophy contenders for a team with national title aspirations.
“Both” is referring to Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift. Few active quarterback/running back combinations — if any — accomplished what they have entering what many assume will be their final college seasons.
With Justin Fields off to Columbus and Elijah Holyfield off to the NFL, expectations for Fromm and Swift are that both will have their most productive seasons yet. Swift already came out and said that he expects to see an uptick in his workload, which still saw him finish fifth among SEC running backs in carries (163) last year.
The prospect of Swift and Fromm potentially having these All-America seasons got me thinking — what would it take for them to have the SEC’s best quarterback/running back combination of the 21st century? Because it’s certainly possible.
So I went back and found that there’s a rare club among SEC quarterback/running back combos since 2000 (it gets tough when you start to compare players who played in completely different eras). It’s simple, really.
How many times has an SEC team had a quarterback finish a season with 30 touchdown passes while having a running back finish with 15 rushing scores? It doesn’t seem that crazy when you consider the fact that last year alone, 12 quarterbacks hit 30 touchdown passes and 14 running backs hit 15 rushing scores. However, Boise State and Clemson were the only teams to accomplish the 30-15 feat.
But let’s get back to the SEC because a lot of this is relative to competition. Here’s the complete list of every SEC quarterback/running back combo in the 21st century to have 30 touchdown passes and 15 rushing touchdowns:
- Arkansas 2015 — Brandon Allen (30)/Alex Collins (20)
- Alabama 2012 — AJ McCarron (30)/Eddie Lacy (17)
- Georgia 2012 — Aaron Murray (36)/Todd Gurley (17)
That’s right. Only three SEC duos earned a spot in that club during the 21st century. (Tim Tebow and Cam Newton each accomplished the 30-15 feat without assistance.)
(If you’re wondering why I chose 30-15, part of it has to do with looking for some multiples of 5. The other part of it is that now with the Playoff system, a team like 2018 Alabama that plays 15 games would need a QB to average 2 TD passes per game and a running back to average 1 rushing TD per game.)
It’s surprising it hasn’t happened in the SEC the past 3 seasons. You could actually make an argument for each of those as the SEC’s best quarterback/running back combo seasons since 2000.
The Allen/Collins combo is the lone member of the 30/20 club, which is pretty impressive when you think about it (Collins really got lost in the shuffle that year because of Leonard Fournette’s first half and Derrick Henry’s all-time great season). The McCarron/Lacy combo is the only one in the club who won a national title, which some would argue digs a little deeper than the numbers. And the Murray/Gurley combo yielded a combined 53 touchdowns, which was the most among that group.
Am I crazy for thinking that’s obtainable for Fromm and Swift?
That’s only if both remain healthy, of course. I think if Swift is the back he was in the latter half of the regular season, 15 rushing scores is conservative. Even if Zamir White looks like the next great Georgia running back that many expect him to be, I’d still think he’s not going to be a high-volume guy as he returns from that torn ACL.
And while Fromm has a lot of new outside weapons to work with, what we saw from him down the stretch suggests he’s ready to take another step. He completed 68% of his passes with a 17-2 touchdown interception ratio in his final 6 games, 4 of which were against top-20 scoring defenses.
Big years are ahead for Fromm and Swift, no doubt. The question is “how big?”
Using the 30-15 club as a guide, I took a look back at the SEC over the past couple decades to try and see what kind of seasons Fromm and Swift are up against. These were some of the best other quarterback/running back combo seasons in the SEC in the 21st century from duos who didn’t quite get into the 30-15 club:
- Auburn 2017 — Jarrett Stidham/Kerryon Johnson
- Alabama 2015 — Jake Coker/Derrick Henry
- Auburn 2014 — Nick Marshall/Cameron Artis-Payne
- Auburn 2013 — Nick Marshall/Tre Mason
- LSU 2013 — Zach Mettenberger/Jeremy Hill
- Alabama 2013 — AJ McCarron/T.J. Yeldon
- Arkansas 2010 — Ryan Mallett/Knile Davis
- Tennessee 2009 — Jonathan Crompton/Montario Hardesty
- Georgia 2008 — Matthew Stafford/Knowshon Moreno
- Tennessee 2007 — Erik Ainge/Arian Foster
- Florida 2004 — Chris Leak/Ciatrick Fason
- Kentucky 2002 — Jared Lorenzen/Artose Pinner
And it’s worth mentioning that yeah, while you could take guys like Newton, Tebow or Johnny Manziel and just say they were their own best quarterback/running back combination, I tried to actually focus on a true 1-2 punch. That meant teams who had relatively shared backfields took a hit for this argument, too.
I also realize not all of these guys had the team success, so it’s worth remembering that this is a numbers-based discussion. But if we were doing a ranking of some sort, you’d probably have to give a little extra love to combos like 2013 Auburn and 2015 Alabama because both won a conference championship and played for a national title.
Maybe Fromm and Swift will join that club. Georgia has always been in good position to yield these great quarterback/running back combo seasons because of how much they still rely on the ground game in this era of spread, up-tempo passing attacks. This year, they’re still expected to have balance with James Coley taking over the offense.
That’s partially why I wanted to focus on a passing metric for a quarterback and a rushing metric for a running back. Great duos keep defenses off balance.
In my mind, Fromm and Swift are already one of the SEC’s better duos of the 21st century following the season they had (I still think a healthy Swift for all of 2018 would have gotten them into the 30-15 club). They have a chance to do something that we rarely see in the SEC.
Fromm and Swift could finish their Georgia careers better than Stafford/Moreno or Murray/Gurley did. All they have to do is join the 30-15 club … and do so while leading Georgia to a national championship berth.
Simple enough, right?