For the first time in his prolific career, Jake Fromm is starting over.
Well, kind of. He’s starting over with a play-caller now that Jim Chaney is off to Tennessee. James Coley is now in charge of those duties following his promotion this offseason. It’ll be Coley who’s tasked with maximizing what could be the final year of Fromm in Athens.
What will that look like? That’s an interesting question.
Surely it’s one that many Georgia fans have to be wondering about after Chaney’s run-pass distribution was a constant topic of conversation.
I decided to dig into Coley as a play-caller because that’s ultimately going to have a say in how Fromm operates in 2019.
Before Coley was hired to join Kirby Smart’s staff in 2016, he was Miami’s play-caller from 2013-15 under Al Golden. The Hurricanes had quarterbacks who were a bit more traditional and not what you’d call true dual-threats. I’d still take Fromm over Brad Kaaya or Stephen Morris, but you get what I’m saying. And while Miami’s backfield obviously wasn’t as loaded as Georgia’s, Coley had either Duke Johnson or Mark Walton to hand the ball off to.
Here was how Coley performed as a play-caller:
What does that tell us, you ask? For starters, Coley’s offense is predicated on balance. That’s good news for Fromm.
Obviously he’s not going to take the Mike Leach approach and throw the ball 50 times per game, or really come anywhere close to that. Coley would be foolish to go that route with D’Andre Swift and Zamir White in the backfield.
Miami’s worst offensive year under Coley was his final season in 2015 when the Canes just couldn’t establish the run all year. They ranked dead last in the ACC in rushing and only 4 Power 5 teams averaged fewer rushing yards per contest (119.1). But even though Miami had someone who was believed to be a first-round quarterback prospect at the time in Kaaya, Coley still nearly had a 50-50 split with running and passing.
Kaaya didn’t take the step up that many expected him to, part of which could have been because Miami struggled to move the chains on the ground. Part of that was on Coley. Despite that statistical regression in Kaaya’s sophomore season, though, Sports Illustrated and others had him still pegged as a first-round pick when Coley left for Georgia after the 2015 season.
There were a ton of positives in the passing game during Coley’s first 2 years at Miami. With Morris under center, the Hurricanes finished third in FBS in pass plays of 30 yards or more in 2013. And when Kaaya was a true freshman in 2014, he led the league in touchdown passes and passing efficiency.
Fromm’s best asset is his efficiency. He was fifth in America in efficiency as a sophomore and he was ninth as a true freshman. Coley isn’t going to suddenly start running a completely new system than the one he was a part of the past 3 seasons, 2 of which saw Fromm lead Georgia to an SEC East title. The offense will be multiple, and every once in a while, Fromm will keep the run-pass option for himself.
But I have a prediction, and I realize that Georgia fans might not like it. I bet Fromm throws the ball more than ever, and he has his best statistical season to date.
To be fair, that’s not really that bold of a prediction for a third-year starter who ranked No. 72 in pass attempts last year. The guy went from 19 passes to — get ready for it — 22 pass attempts per game. Coley and his passing game roots will be in the DNA of this offense.
Last year, Georgia’s run-pass splits were 61%-39%. I’m not saying those are going to be flipped, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Georgia at least got into the 43-45% range and pretended to be a somewhat modern-looking offense.
And look. I get it. Georgia is so loaded with talent in the ground game that it’d be stupid to suddenly start airing it out like a Big 12 team. The Dawgs will be up big in their fair share of games, and they won’t need to throw that much.
But even Tua Tagovailoa, who basically didn’t play in the fourth quarter until the postseason because he had one of the most efficient regular seasons ever, averaged 24 pass attempts per game. That was with a backfield that had a pair of former 5-star recruits and potential first-round pick Josh Jacobs.
It’s OK if Fromm gets a few more chances to air it out. It’d be surprising if he didn’t.
The good news for Coley is that he doesn’t have to deal with the Justin Fields dynamic. Chaney struggled with that to a certain extent.
We don’t know what Coley is going to struggle with. Maybe it’ll be coaching up a group of pass-catchers that underwent a serious makeover this offseason. Perhaps it’ll be getting Fromm to not focus on his draft stock, which Kaaya was accused of doing once he became a veteran. It could just be that he deals with the usual concern from Georgia fans, which is that he isn’t maximizing the copious amounts of offensive talent.
For all we know, though, Coley will take Fromm to an even higher level. He and Fromm have developed a chemistry together. That’s why the offense should have more pace. There should be more responsibility for Fromm, too. His ability to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage should be evident.
It’s those elements that have Georgia optimistic about Coley as the new play-caller, despite the fact that Chaney just left after leading top-20 offenses with Fromm under center. Fromm and Coley could be the combination that gets Georgia over the proverbial Alabama hump.
The right play call here or the right play call there and who knows? Maybe it’s Alabama that’s in need of a fake punt run on 4th-and-11.