ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia fans were already starting to grumble early with the offense stuck in neutral starting its third possession of the season.
Then everything changed involving a pair of 19-year-old quarterbacks.
Sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason couldn’t find anyone open on second down, so he ran to the safety of the sideline and a 1-yard loss. Only the sideline wasn’t so safe when Appalachian State’s Myquon Stout gave a late shove on the hip that buckled Eason’s left knee. Eason went sailing with his left leg akimbo, reaching for the knee before he hit the ground.
Eason got up and limped back toward the huddle before collapsing between the hashes. He was helped off the field and eventually the locker room where he didn’t return with a sprained knee.
Suddenly the Georgia Bulldogs were in the hands of a true freshman for the second consecutive season. The Jake Fromm era began just eight-and-a-half minutes into the first quarter of his first collegiate game.
The 19-year-old from Houston County delivered an immediate spark, a 31-10 victory and surely stirred up a legitimate quarterback controversy whenever Eason comes back. Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he won’t know the extent of Eason’s injury until today at the earliest.
“(Fromm) showed tremendous poise for a freshman in how he handled the situation,” said Javon Wims, who caught Fromm’s first career touchdown pass. “The situation wasn’t too big for him. He went out there and executed.”
The one word you can’t use to describe Fromm is indecisive. He promptly stepped in and hit his first two passes of the game for 8 yards each to Isaac Nauta and Mecole Hardman to secure Georgia’s initial first down of the night not by penalty.
On his second series, Fromm delivered strikes of 16 and 25 yards to Nauta and Wims to set up a short Nick Chubb touchdown to break the seal on the scoreboard.
Next series he threw deep behind Wims for a 34-yard touchdown.
His third series, a floater toward Terry Godwin coaxed a pass interference call on Appalachian State that set up a 6-yard Sony Michel touchdown on a direct snap.
The guy hadn’t even played a whole quarter and the Bulldogs suddenly had a 21-point lead they hadn’t experience in 18 games dating back to 2015. Fromm looked a little like Aaron Murray out there in his No. 11 jersey making the Bulldogs offense move. He doesn’t possess the arm strength of Eason, but he makes up for it in confidence and efficiency.
“We practice so hard and all those guys get a lot of reps so when Fromm came in he did a great job and we knew he was going to be good,” Nauta said. “He was real confident. We practice these sudden change things all the time, so it was real natural for him to come in there.”
From that point, Fromm became mostly a game manager as Georgia grew content to establish its running game behind seniors Chubb (100 yards, 2 TDs) and Michel (89, 1 TD) and coast to a relatively easy opening win against a dangerous Sun Belt opponent.
“He’s practiced it over and over so it was really no surprise to the team,” said Michel. “Every quarterback runs with every team, so once he stepped in we already knew what time it was. There was no change in our offense.”
In the fourth quarter, Fromm yielded the huddle to Brice Ramsey – who for a third-string quarterback isn’t a bad backup punter. Ramsey promptly threw an interception that led to the end of Georgia’s shutout, reminding everyone how suddenly thin the Bulldogs are at quarterback behind its two elite teenagers.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Eason, the blue-chip recruit who was poised to deliver on his potential and build on his experience from a year ago. Instead, Eason left the game a third-and-11 away from three consecutive three-and-outs with 1-for-3 passing for four yards and two rushes for minus-1.
It’s a little premature to start calling him Wally Pipp. You don’t give up on a teenager with Eason’s dimensions. He was only 3 in 2001 when Drew Bledsoe got hurt and never got his job back from Tom Brady.
“You never like to see that for a guy,” said Nauta. “He’s one of our brothers and we’re going to rally him and he’s going to be good.”
Like it or not, however, Georgia has itself a situation brewing at quarterback once Eason is healthy and cleared to play again. Fromm directed the offense with an efficiency that was often absent with Eason last season. Granted the Bulldogs have a more seasoned coaching staff deploying more weapons against an Appalachian State team that isn’t Florida, but it was an impressive debut for a guy thrust into emergency service sooner than anyone could have imagined.
In a week, the Bulldogs will walk into the shadows of Touchdown Jesus and face one of college football’s most storied programs at Notre Dame. It’s a daunting challenge for any visiting quarterback, much less one who was directing a high school offense a year ago.
“We’re all proud of him,” said Nauta of Fromm. “To be able to step up and play in that atmosphere in that moment, we’re all proud of him.”
Beyond pride, the Bulldogs may be counting on Fromm sooner than anyone imagined.