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Georgia’s Odd Couple Comes Through

By Matt Smith
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Jake Fromm overcame the multitude of challenges that come with playing quarterback in the SEC in one’s first year in college, leading the Bulldogs to the SEC East title.

A starting true freshman quarterback on a championship team is unusual (hi, Jalen Hurts). Jake Fromm overcame the multitude of challenges that come with playing quarterback in the SEC in one’s first year in college, leading the Bulldogs to the SEC East title.

As similarly unlikely in the SEC, is a star senior running back. If a running back has NFL potential, he’s almost certainly gone after three years. Nick Chubb more than qualifies as the former, but surprisingly did not choose the latter, electing to return to Georgia for his senior season, in which he finished fourth in the league in rushing.

That rare true freshman quarterback combined with that even more rare star senior running back came together and played their best game of the season on Saturday afternoon, as No. 6 Georgia scored the final 28 points of the SEC Championship Game in a 28-7 triumph over No. 2 Auburn. The victory not only sends the 12-1 Bulldogs to the College Football Playoff, but also avenged a 40-17 defeat to the Tigers three weeks ago, when Fromm and Chubb were perhaps at their low point of the 2017 season.

Chubb’s stat line isn’t anything special on the surface: 13 carries for 77 yards. However, when you consider he ran for just 27 yards on 11 attempts three weeks ago, his six yards per carry average looks pretty darn good. Chubb had plenty of “dirty yards”, or yards after first contact, finishing runs against a defense that bottled him up the last time they met.

Saturday also earned Chubb a special place in SEC history, as he climbed to No. 2 on the SEC career rushing yards list, trailing only former Bulldogs Heisman Trophy winner and superhuman Herschel Walker.

What Chubb also did was make things much easier on his quarterback, who couldn’t overcome the lack of a running game down on The Plains. Fromm finished just 13 of 28 in his team’s only defeat of the season, with his only touchdown pass coming in garbage time.

Fromm did succumb to heavy pressure on the game’s first drive in round two against Auburn, but was brilliant from then on. He missed just six of 22 pass attempts for a sterling 74 percent completion percentage. There were also two touchdown passes this time, including a beautiful out route throw to Terry Godwin that gave Georgia a two-score lead early in the fourth quarter.

Facing an Auburn defense that had held Georgia and Alabama to a combined 31 points in November, Fromm nearly matched that total in one game, shaking off the early 7-0 deficit to play nearly flawless football the rest of the way. It’s a testament to Fromm’s mental toughness, excellent development by the Georgia staff, and the increased readiness of quarterbacks today coming out of high school.

Fromm joins Alabama’s Hurts as the only true freshman quarterbacks to win an SEC Championship Game. Hurts accomplished the feat just last year after 24 straight winning quarterbacks had been in at least their second year in college.

While Fromm will have more chances to claim a conference title, Saturday was Chubb’s last swing after not even winning the SEC East in his first three seasons. He and classmate Sony Michel, who missed the second half of the game with a knee injury, played with a physicality that suggested it was their final shot and they were there to inflict punishment.

Michel set up Georgia’s go-ahead field goal in the second quarter mostly on his own, ripping off an 18-yard run before taking a short pass for 32 yards two plays later. It was a small but important role on a short day for Michel, whose status for Georgia’s College Football Playoff semifinal a month from now is uncertain at this point.

Chubb and freshman D’Andre Swift carried the load the rest of the way in Michel’s absence, with the newcomer icing the game with a 64-yard touchdown run midway through the final quarter.

Yes, a true freshman quarterback and a standout senior running back is an odd pairing, but it was the perfect marriage on Saturday for Georgia to claim its first SEC title in a dozen years. The SEC champion has gone on to win seven of the past 11 national championships, and the Bulldogs have to like their chances come New Year’s Day against what looks to be Big 12 champion Oklahoma.

A year ago, as Georgia was finishing a disappointing 8-5 season, it was expected that Fromm would be a backup and Chubb would be playing on Sundays. Instead, the two came together for Georgia’s best performance of the year and an SEC championship that seemed just as unlikely 12 months ago.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.