It's OK if Georgia fans have these 2 concurrent thoughts about Justin Fields
In a week, there’s a chance that we could be talking about Justin Fields dethroning Clemson en route to a national championship berth.
Plenty of Georgia fans will watch the Fiesta Bowl through the vantage point of a jaded ex, and understandably so. Fields proved to be everything that they thought he would be when he signed with the Dawgs a short 2 years ago — dynamic, efficient, advanced, etc. The issue, of course, is that he’s doing that for Ohio State and not for Georgia.
If Fields were to win a national championship, it would be a different kind of Georgia heartbreak. I wouldn’t consider that “smash the TV anger.” I’d consider it “polish off that pint of Ben & Jerry’s” depression.
After all, Georgia is the dumped ex, not the spouse who was cheated on.
There are 2 concurrent thoughts about Fields that are perfectly fine to have if you’re a Georgia fan. I’m gonna get to those in a minute. I promise.
First, though, let’s not allow for lazy takes to surface.
One lazy take is that Georgia didn’t want Fields and that was cast-aside as some backup. Fields played in 12 games as a true freshman at Georgia, where a team coming off a national championship berth had an established returning starting quarterback. To sit here and say that Fields wasn’t wanted when Smart refused to outright name Jake Fromm the starter until late in fall camp and made sure the true freshman was involved would be incredibly short-sighted.
The second lazy take is that Georgia was dumb to continue to start Fromm over Fields. The moment Fromm entrenched himself as the rest-of-season starter was the Florida game. Had he laid an egg for the second consecutive matchup instead of storming back and leading a convincing win against the Gators, I truly believe Fields is still at Georgia. That didn’t happen, though. What did happen was Fromm was the 5th-most efficient passer in the country for another SEC East championship team that nearly beat what looked like a historic Alabama team … thanks to Fromm’s 300-yard, 3-touchdown performance.
— Kyle Jordan (@KyleLive5) December 1, 2018
So yes, it’s lazy to say that Fields clearly should’ve been starting in 2018. You roll the dice on starting a true freshman and benching Fromm, AKA the guy who got the program to its first national championship berth since Herschel Walker, and we’re talking about a move that can potentially alter the trajectory of Georgia football for years down the road.
OK, back to those 2 concurrent Fields thoughts for you, bitter Georgia fan. Here’s the first — it’s fair to wonder what might’ve been at UGA.
Watching Fields this year in Ryan Day’s offense feels like watching a different sport compared to Fromm with James Coley. What Fields does well is exactly what the Georgia offense has lacked. That is, have a willingness to stretch the field — part of that is on Coley and part of that is on Fromm — and have a mobile quarterback who can move the chains when plays break down.
You can probably go back and find several instances like this in which a drive could’ve been extended if Fields was tasked with making a 3rd-down play:
Marlon Davidson beating Andrew Thomas for a key 3rd down sack. Looks like Thomas underset and Fromm didn’t do him any favors. pic.twitter.com/qEsqFq07pZ
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) November 16, 2019
Fields is leading the top 3rd-down offense in FBS. Of course he is.
With every 3rd-down scramble or deep ball that Fields converts, it has to serve as a stomach-dropping reminder of why Georgia fans fell in love with him when he was a recruit.
Justin Fields is a cheat code on third down. pic.twitter.com/dyUeGgXtwC
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 23, 2019
By the way, that’s in a game with major Playoff implications against an elite defense on a key early 3rd-and-long.
It’s not that Fromm can’t convert on 3rd downs. Ask Florida fans about that. It’s that what Fields can do can take a good offense and make it great. There’s a reason the Buckeyes have been unstoppable this year for defenses, and Fields’ skill set is obviously a major part of that. It looks easy with Fields. You expect it. With Fromm, it feels like a surprise when he converts on 3rd-and-long.
So what am I saying? That the decision to go with Fromm over Fields is why Georgia is sitting at home right now? Not necessarily, though for the aforementioned areas of strength that Fields has over Fromm, saying would be exactly the same offense seems foolish.
That brings us to thought No. 2 — there’s simply no way that Fields would be having the year he’s having at Ohio State if he were in Coley’s offense at Georgia.
That’s not taking anything away from Fields, who continues to answer every test thrown his way. His pocket presence has improved, and it’s paying dividends for the Buckeyes.
But you’re out of your mind if you think Fields is rocking a 40-1 TD-INT ratio with the nation’s No. 4 QB rating if he’s still at Georgia. Why? It’s the system and the receivers.
I’m not gonna sit here and bore you with the reasons Day’s system/play-calling is different from Coley’s. One offense shrinks the field for a defense, the other doesn’t. One is willing to actually throw the ball on 1st and 2nd down, the other isn’t. I’ll let you figure out which offense belongs to who.
As for the weapons, there was a reason Jeremiah Holloman’s dismissal was so significant. His loss meant that Georgia was trying to become the first team to ever lose all 5 top receivers and make the Playoff. Ohio State might’ve lost Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell, but it still returned an extremely talented group of wideouts led by the emerging K.J. Hill.
The comparison of returning receivers was night and day:
That’s also not accounting for the breakout season of Ohio State’s Chris Olave, who turned into a big-play machine with 11 touchdowns this year.
Is that to say that Georgia’s offense was destined to always pale in comparison to Ohio State’s? No, but it’s important context for this discussion. Receivers getting separation continues to be an issue for Georgia. It’s not for Ohio State. That doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Fields or Fromm. It does have to do with being a developed route-runner and having a play-caller who knows how to scheme.
We’ll never know this officially, but I find it hard to believe that Fields would be having a Heisman invite-worthy season had he stuck around and been named the starter at Georgia. That wasn’t going to happen after Fromm bounced back in 2018 against Florida, though. Fields was right to pursue another path to playing time, despite the frustrating set of circumstances that surrounded it.
Could Fields have thrived in 2018 had Georgia used him as more than a glorified wildcat quarterback? Sure. And would he be out-performing Fromm had he been the starter? Based on what we’ve seen in 2019, it’s hard to argue against that. That’s why it’s fair to think about what would’ve could’ve been.
But in reality, Fields at Georgia was more of a fantasy once Fromm took his game to a new level in the middle of 2018. They tried to create a world in which Fromm and Fields could coexist, and ultimately, they failed. That doesn’t necessarily make picking Fromm the wrong move just because Fields is having great success at Ohio State.
For Georgia fans, Fields will always be the one that got away. Just remember why he got away, and remember the circumstances that allowed him to flourish.
Got it? Good. Now, Georgia fans, go down that pint of Ben & Jerry’s without shame.