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Smart call for Georgia Bulldogs to stick with Jake Fromm

Three weeks ago, Kirby Smart had an easier-than-you-think decision to make.

Would he reinsert his sophomore starting quarterback, former five-star phenom Jacob Eason, who was returning from a knee injury, or roll with undefeated true freshman Jake Fromm?

Clearly, Fromm was the choice. He was winning -- 6-0 with a win at now-No. 9 Notre Dame -- and gave Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney zero reason to pull him.

"People make a bigger deal out of it than it is," Smart said. "Eason was out. And while Eason was out, we practiced Fromm. He got developed. He got better. He worked hard. He did some good things. He's gotten better with each game. He's playing well right now."

Regardless of how talented Eason is, Smart made the right decision by not tinkering with a good thing.

A year removed from starting Eason over veteran Greyson Lambert in Week 2, the key to Smart's approach with Fromm was patience, simplify and use the people around him to slowly bring Fromm along. They took the game out of Fromm's hands as much as they could.

It's almost as if he got this blueprint from his old boss -- Alabama's Nick Saban -- who has a history of managing quarterback turnover and young signal-callers.

"You have to have a lot of patience," Saban said. "Guys don't always do it exactly the way you want, but the big thing is is how do I coach this guy to get better every week. We didn't ask [Jalen Hurts] to do a lot of things that he couldn't do and tried to emphasize the things that he could, and I think he gained confidence in doing that."

In Fromm's first six games, he averaged just 15.8 attempts (tied for last in the SEC among starters) and 139.3 yards per game (13th among starters). Georgia ran the ball an SEC-high 48.7 times per game during that span and was second only to Alabama with 1,610 rushing yards, thanks to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Georgia also outscored opponents by an average of 25 points per game, also second in the SEC to Alabama.

"They're smart because they're not letting the quarterback beat them," one head coach said of Smart's managing of Fromm. "Who are they giving the ball to? Those two running backs. The quarterback in that offense is not going to beat you."

Fromm has also benefited from an improved receiving corps. Terry Godwin is averaging 23.1 yards per catch with 9.6 yards after the catch, 3 yards better than last season. Javon Wims, who was a relative no-show last season, has 312 receiving yards and is getting 17.3 YPC.

However, Fromm's limited throwing created outside skepticism. One defensive coach who faced Fromm this season described his play as "good, not great" and was curious how Fromm would play from behind in the fourth quarter without his running game carrying him.

"How can he handle throwing under pressure and in tight windows when the game is on the line?" the coach wondered. "He hasn't had to make the plays that a quarterback has to make when the game's on the line."

That all changed two weeks ago against Missouri when Fromm had to use his arm in a game that was 24-21 Georgia in the second quarter. Fromm overcame an interception on Georgia's second possession to throw for 250 yards (a season high) in the first half. He finished the game with 326 yards, 257 of them -- and two touchdowns -- coming on third down (9-of-12 passing). Fromm converted eight third-down passes for first downs, including six that went for 20-plus yards.

"I'm seeing a little more confidence in him," Smart said after the game. "He's making good decisions. He understands the game. He knows where to go with the ball. He sees coverages well."

Smart passed one of his biggest tests at Georgia when he chose Fromm over Eason in a season that has championship aspirations. Fromm passed his first real test when he had to be a true quarterback. That's two pretty big wins for Georgia, which comes off a bye week before the all-important Cocktail Party with Florida.

Funny thing is, at least one Gator isn't convinced.

"I mean, you say they have a great quarterback -- I get it. He's throwing simple passes -- I get it. Anybody can throw a slant -- I get it," safety Chauncey Gardner said. "We're going to see what his best attribute is. If he can beat us with his arm, whoopty doo."

You have to wonder if Gardner would take Fromm and all of his "slants," considering the Bulldogs are undefeated and has an SEC-high passing efficiency rating of 170.4, compared to the Gators' 3-3 record and never-ending quarterback issues.

The symbolism with Georgia and Florida couldn't be any more perfect. Smart, who is as defensive-minded as they come, has found the right quarterback formula with a true freshman and his superstar on the bench, while Florida coach Jim McElwain, a supposed offensive guru, has had zero quarterback consistency in two and half seasons in Gainesville. Redshirt freshman QB Feleipe Franks, a former ESPN 300 member, has struggled all season, despite having more than a year to learn from McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

Unlike Florida, Smart is watching true development unfold while a five-star sits. Now, this isn't to say that Eason will be left in the shadows for the rest of the season. His natural ability alone keeps him a Fromm mistake or two away from the field.

"You talk about talent? Holy s---. Oh, man," said a Pac-12 coach familiar with Eason's play at Lake Stevens High School in Washington. "That guy, whew, he has all the talent in the world ... in terms of just straight throwing the ball -- oh my gosh."

Smart has a good problem on his hands, and for now, he's steering this ship in the right direction with Fromm by his side.