Justin Fields? Jake Fromm? Both? Florida Gators will find out Saturday

How much will we see Georgia's Jake Fromm against the Gators? And how much will we see freshman Justin Fields? [ AP FILE PHOTO ]
How much will we see Georgia's Jake Fromm against the Gators? And how much will we see freshman Justin Fields? [ AP FILE PHOTO ]
Published October 25 2018

GAINESVILLE — There's some quarterback uncertainty swirling ahead of Saturday's Florida-Georgia game.

Just not the one you would have expected in January.

After spending last year embattled and then benched, Feleipe Franks is entrenched as the starter for the No. 9 Gators. His improvement (15 touchdown passes, five interceptions) is one reason why UF has already surpassed its win total from last season and will enter TIAA Bank Field with legitimate hopes of winning the SEC East.

A year after blowing out the Gators and taking Alabama to overtime in the College Football Playoff title game, Georgia's Jake Fromm is under pressure. The worst performance of his career (16-of-34, one touchdown, two interceptions and three sacks) in his last game is fueling speculation that he could lose reps, if not the starting job, to superstar recruit Justin Fields.

It might not be a controversy, but it's at least a dilemma.

Not that coach Kirby Smart is addressing it that way.

"I think it's the same message we've had all along," Smart told Georgia reporters Monday. "We want to play the guy that gives us the best opportunity to be successful, and that comes from a lot of reps in practice, a lot of work in practice. They both got a tremendous amount of work last week, and we'll continue to make that decision based on what gives us the best opportunity to be successful."

There's a case to be made for both players.

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Before the loss at LSU two weeks ago, Fromm had the fifth-highest passer rating of any quarterback nationally since 1956. Even with the rough performance, his completion percentage (66.9) is within a point of the best mark in Georgia history, and the No. 7 Bulldogs have won 18 of his 21 starts.

But Fields has the greater potential. In the last 15 years, only one quarterback recruit has had a higher 247Sports composite rating than Fields — Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence, whose early emergence led the Tigers to bench the quarterback who led them to the ACC title last year (Kelly Bryant).

Fields can throw (18-of-25 for 200 yards and two touchdowns), but he's a more dynamic runner. He's averaging 7.6 yards per carry and has scored on three of his 18 rushes.

"He can move," UF linebacker David Reese said. "He was a top quarterback in the nation. We recruited him. Everybody recruited him. We know this guy. We've seen the measurables and all that."

But the question is: How much will they see him on Saturday?

Smart, of course, is saying little.

He said both quarterbacks have done a good job of attacking certain areas, but the team as a whole needs to create more passing opportunities when opposing defenses devote extra players to stopping the run. While Georgia has used Fields more in rushing situations, maybe this will be an opportunity to allow him to air it out more.

"I certainly think he's gotten better with the off week…" Smart said. "If we see the opportunity, it certainly could happen."

And if Smart is going to make a change happen, this would be the logical time to do it.

Without a game to prepare for last week, Georgia could spend use time to assess Fields' strengths and how best to use them. The open date would also give Fields more time to feel comfortable with those new responsibilities, whether it's a specialty package, a full-time role or something else.

"Coming off a bye week sometimes, you have the opportunity to create some new wrinkles within your scheme, within your system," UF coach Dan Mullen said. "So we'll see."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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