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.”