In his first two seasons as Georgia’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Jim Chaney hasn’t had it easy.
Along with being tasked with play-calling, Chaney has had to develop and mentor quarterbacks in their freshman seasons as they prepare for a starting role - Jacob Eason in 2016, and now Jake Fromm this season.
Under Fromm, Georgia finds itself with a 4-0 record, 1-0 in the SEC East. The freshman was thrown into action in the season opener after Eason suffered a sprained knee.
Chaney has a history of working with successful signal callers, most notably Drew Brees at Purdue. So, how has he handled his latest bout?
“Like a champ, he hasn’t complained to me,” Smart said.
That may because Fromm has managed things appropriately while leading the offense. The Warner Robins product has thrown only one interception in four full games of action.
As Fromm developed and Georgia tried to keep things “vanilla” against Group of Five and FCS opponents, he was limited in what he could showcase. But in Saturday’s conference opener, a flea-flicker on the play’s first game told 92,746 in the stadium all they needed to know.
Chaney had trust in Fromm and wasn’t holding back. It paid off.
Fromm finished 9-for-12 (8-for-8 at one point in the second half) with 201 yards, two touchdowns and led Georgia to a 31-3 victory over Mississippi State.
“I honestly think he read the coverages well, did the right things and had a good feel for the game plan,” head coach Smart said. “Jim did a good job, mixing it up and letting him be aggressive.”
The rave reviews of the true freshman continue as Smart credited his accuracy and poise while behind center. It hasn’t seemed too difficult for the Bulldogs’ playmakers to adjust to the quarterback change, either.
Eason could be cleared to return at any point, but was unavailable on Saturday after being listed as a third-teamer on the pregame depth chart. However, it may be no certainty that the sophomore reclaims his starting position as Smart indicated there’s a decision to be made.
“He's making smart decisions with the football, not really turning it over,” said Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta, who collected his first touchdown of the season on a 41-yard reception from Fromm. “That's really all you can ask from a starting quarterback, just make good decisions and let guys make plays. He's doing a good job.
While praising the latest work produced by Fromm, Georgia’s second-year head coach is hesitant to put one particular asset on a pedestal when discussing offensive output. In its last two games, Georgia has scored 72 points.
“It’s a total team effort,” Smart said. “I thought the game plan was very clear, concise and we understood what we wanted to do. But what makes it work is the people out there doing it. I thought Jim called a good game.”
Back to the challenge of dealing with young players such as Fromm, there are certain areas that Smart can’t control. One area of control is Georgia’s work on the recruiting trail, and the Bulldogs went all out on hosting prospects for their SEC opener.
A horde of five-star recruits took to Sanford Stadium to experience a game day in Athens, some of which included quarterback Justin Fields, linebacker KJ Henry and running back James Cook.
Georgia signed one of the nation’s top classes in 2017 and hopes to follow that up with the early signing period for 2018 looming in December. It has proven to pay off behind center as depth has shown to be vital.
Both Fromm and Eason were former five-star recruits, and the intensified pursuit of upper-echelon quarterbacks gave Georgia a lifeline.
“I complain to my wife all the time about it, but it doesn’t do any good,” Smart said. “There’s nothing you can do about it but go with it. The bottom line is that’s why you recruit, to go find players because you want the best. You’re constantly trying to find the best.
“Luckily we got this kid to come in here, because where would we be without him?”