Gators preparing to stop two No. 1 QBs

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Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm thows during last year's game against Florida in Jacksonville. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Florida is no stranger to a revolving door at running back, as it has often relied on a by-committee approach to the backfield.

And Georgia is no different, but its offense will likely present UF with a unique challenge Saturday in Jacksonville.

Once again, Georgia has two quarterbacks on the roster fully capable of running the offense, and it seems the fanbase is split on who gives the team the best chance at succeeding.

There’s sophomore Jake Fromm, who took over for then-starter Jacob Eason, now at Washington, last season, and Fromm helped lead UGA to a spot in the national championship game, where the Crimson Tide prevailed with an inexperienced QB of their own.

Fromm would start the 2018 season as UGA’s starter, but history would soon repeat itself, as freshman Justin Fields has looked more than capable of running the offense.

Following the 36-16 loss to LSU, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart gave Fields a ringing endorsement despite the freshman sitting out just his second game this season.

Despite his limited role this season, Smart said Fields looked capable of running Georgia’s entire pro-style offense — meaning UGA may have used the interim period since the loss to the Tigers to once again settle a quarterback controversy.

The truth is Florida will have to gameplan for both Fields and Fromm.

“You just got to prep for their skillset, like Fromm he’s more of a passing guy and the freshman (Fields) is like a running type,” UF linebacker Rayshad Jackson said. “So we just prep for what their ability is.”

Gators coach Dan Mullen believes Fields will be used primarily in situations that required a mobile quarterback, too.

“They’ve used (Fields) primarily as a runner in that aspect. But you have the opportunity to create some new wrinkles within your scheme, within your system. So we’ll see. If we get more of him in the game, obviously it’s a little different player than Fromm in what he does with his skill set,” Mullen said. “Obviously, like I said, being a little more of a runner in how they utilize him. But we’ve got to be ready for both of them.”

Although Jackson and Mullen prefaced their evaluations with the caveat that the team had yet to seriously scout both quarterbacks, the statistics this season don’t quite back up their assessments. While it’s true Fields has contributed on the ground for Georgia, rushing 18 times for 136 yards and three touchdowns, it’s been the freshman’s arm that has Smart and Co. confident he can lead the offense sooner rather than later.

Fields has completed 18 of his 25 pass attempts, a 72-percent completion percentage, for 200 yards and two touchdowns, meaning any notion Fields can’t lead a pro-style offense is woefully misinformed.

Florida wasn’t expected to be well-versed in the opposition’s personnel just yet, but UF is at least aware of the threat that comes with rotating quarterbacks. Yet this isn’t a situation akin to Tim Tebow and Chris Leak, where one quarterback clearly gives you an advantage in certain situations. Both Fromm and Fields are progressing well to date — although Jackson is right in that the freshman’s running ability adds another layer to Georgia’s offense.

Regardless of who is standing in the pocket, Florida is sticking with the same gameplan: harass and pressure the quarterback all afternoon. It’s a plan that’s worked wonders when it succeeds, and one that more often than not leaves Florida exposed when it doesn’t.

Although the challenge has changed, the Gators are focusing on what has got them to a 6-1 record heading into The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party — controlling the variables that can be controlled.

“We’ve got talented pass-rushers. We’ve got guys up front, guys up front that can stop the run,” Gators defensive tackle Adam Shuler said, “and all hell’s going to break loose when we rush the passer.”

20 COMMENTS

  1. Fields may be able to run the offense, but whether he can run it effectively isn’t a given. He’s only attempted 25 passes in 7 games and 22 of those came in mop up duty against Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State, and Vanderbilt. In the 4 games against the only decent teams they’ve played, he’s thrown a total of 3 passes. Sorry, but that’s not enough evidence to show he’s capable of running the offense “effectively” against a good team. Smart can claim all he wants that he’s fully capable, but you don’t really know till you see him do it in live action. If Smart were smart, he’d throw some wrinkles in and allow him to throw some passes in this game against a great defense. As of right now everyone knows when he’s in there it’s going to be a running play, so he’s not really surprising anyone. Let’s see if Smart has the ability to get creative.

    • Good post. I do think the “have another package to make the defense prepare” thing can be over-rated sometimes, especially if the package is predictable and rarely decides a game. I keep thinking– by the way– that Toney is going to throw out of the wildcat one of these days. I think they are just waiting for the opportune moment!

      • Its a whole nother game to stop a running QB and the gators have been gashed this year by running QB’s. They really had to buckle down in the 2nd half against MSU to make that QB 1 dimensional(and they did a great job of it), which was the difference in the game. If they fail to stay in their gaps again, this Ga team will make them pay on the ground! Running QB’s make most defenses pay. You have to be really good with gap assignment to shut them down. Allowing yourself to over pursue, to commit too early and to be sucked in to your gap to be blocked out is usually the error; poor tackling is the other.

  2. Kind of like Mullen did against Mississippi State by rolling Toney out, everyone thinking jet sweep/run, and he lobs a perfect pass to Moral Stephens. Look out for the pass by these athlete quarterbacks! Don’t just bite on the expected run.

  3. I watched the LSU game and half of another and in both games Fromme looked actually bad. I am not sure it was all his fault, but the Georgia passing was erratic. That doesn’t mean it will be again, but it does suggest we can focus on shutting down the run and forcing Georgia to show they’ve fixed what was wrong with the pass game. I am also sure that Fields did play in the LSU game, actually, as I recall them sending him in, but all he did was hand off the ball so no stats. Maybe I am confusing the two games. In any case, the running game did open up with Fields in there whether because the defense felt they had to account for him or something in the UGA mindset.

    Georgia will be desperate to win this game. They expected to be a playoff team this year, and having the Mighty Gators take that away is pretty much their worst nightmare. It will be interesting to see what each staff comes up with. Our team keeps surprising me in all the best ways.

  4. Dr. Grantham, I like that, it has a nice ring to it. Fact is, are we going to be ready ? I say yes. WE HAVE A COACHING STAFF THAT PREPARES FOR EVERYTHING. Ready for thursday for prediction day. Good Day……….

  5. nice enough article, but who knows. one time we had brantley and driskel, that had just as many recruiting stars, and we had some guy as coach that had a decided schematic advantage, and our coach was a brilliant defensive recruiter whatever, and 20 more 5 star nfl guys and all that. sounds like this years georgia team, so who knows, but games arent won by newspaper articles.

  6. I have always thought that last year Chubb and Michel made Fromm appear to be a much better QB than he really is. They were such explosive and productive players that Fromm got much less attention from defenses than he does now, and the difference shows. Granted, Holyfield and Swift are great backs, but they do not dominate a game and game planning like Chubb and Michel did. When you have two RB’s, both of whom would have been high draft picks, return for senior seasons rather than go pro, it makes for game changing performances. Fromm is a good QB, but the mere fact that Smart is buffing up Fields is an indication of just how great Smart thinks Fromm really is. If we handle him like we did Nick Fitzgerald (also over rated IMO) we have a great chance of pulling another upset.

  7. I’m just wondering why we haven’t been trying to bring Jones up like GA has with Fields. Clearly we’d be a better offense with more of a run threat, and Jones isn’t going to improve without play time. I know Franks has improved a bit over the year but I still think his slow decision making and inability to run limits us. It’s possible Mullen will use him a bit over these next few games as a wrinkle that other defenses haven’t seen yet, without burning his redshirt. Otherwise I don’t see how Jones or anyone else has a chance to overtake Franks over the summer. Anyone else kinda bummed about the possibility of 2 more years of Franks?

  8. Football games are won with your linemen. Georgia’s offensive line is not as good this year and Florida’s defensive line is very efficient.
    Plus Georgia usually self destructs in these games. We also have the running backs and theirs have gone to the NFL.
    Put your money on the Gators and take the 7 points