COLUMBIA — With Georgia’s stacked tailback rotation, there was no need to depend on a passing game. So when quarterback Jacob Eason went down and freshman Jake Fromm stepped in last year, he had a simple instruction.
“Don’t lose the game.”
Hand off. Almost always take the “R” in the burgeoning “RPO” — run-pass option. If you have to throw, stick to the short sideline hitches.
Not that Fromm can’t throw. He’s got an arm as powerful as any quarterback in the league.
But he didn’t have to.
This year, it’s more of the same. Despite losing runners Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the Bulldogs have D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien (James Cook is a fourth option, but is suspended the first half this week after a targeting ejection). Georgia’s game plan is to let those guys dictate the offense and Fromm’s arm will be used to get the ball to them and slot receivers.
After watching Fromm complete 16 of 22 passes for 196 yards last year, South Carolina will try to stop it. The book on Fromm may read that he doesn’t have to win it by himself, but the Gamecocks will approach him as if he will.
“Most of them were RPOs, and they do a really good job and were very effective in last year’s game with that,” USC coach Will Muschamp said. “I don’t know that Jake totally gets the credit he deserves. He’s very accurate with what he did with the football and it speaks for itself what he did as a true freshman.”
Against USC in last season’s 24-10 Georgia victory, Fromm threw four deep balls, including one on the first play of the game that fell incomplete. Another was knocked away by Jamarcus King in the end zone, and another was off a scramble where he launched for the sideline and it fell out of bounds.
The other was a pretty back-shoulder catch for a touchdown. Nine of the rest of Fromm’s throws were short curls to the sideline, designed to get the receiver the ball and let them run.
“He’s a good quarterback,” USC linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “They balance it a lot with the run game. We got to make sure we stay in our gaps and do our job, and come to play, because they’re going to try to bully you.”
It’s extremely tough to get a pass-rush or apply tight man coverage on the edges when the QB is trying to nickel-and-dime a team downfield. Blitz and the ball’s already gone; the corners play tight off the line and risk losing the receiver on the first move, leaving him running free downfield.
USC is playing a man down in the secondary for the first half this week (Nick Harvey, also ejected last week for targeting). Rashad Fenton and Keisean Nixon, who started at corner against Coastal Carolina, know what they’ll have to do.
“It’s not difficult at all,” Fenton murmured. “We’ll have to play them very close, though, stop the separation.”
There may be only so much they can do, but the Gamecocks have seen it before. They adjusted to it in the second half last year and improved their coverage, although Georgia still won the game.
A second round of improving may yield a different result.