Georgia’s quarterback problem is like a car speeding past you on a two-way street with its high beams on, or like a teenager playing music too loud in their bedroom while you’re trying to sleep.
It’s glaring. It’s blaring. And it’s impossible to ignore.
The issue doesn’t make a lot of sense to anyone who’s been following the program in the Kirby Smart era. Since the 2016 recruiting cycle, the Bulldogs have added at least one 247Sports Composite four or five-star quarterback to its roster, so it’s tough to say it’s an issue of raw talent.
Do fans remember the excitement around five-star Lake Stevens, Washington, product Jacob Eason, or the disappointment when he underperformed in 2016? Do they remember the clamor around signing top dual-threat Justin Fields, or the frustration watching him transfer to Ohio State and be named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in his first year there?
Looking around the college football landscape, it’s tough to neglect the fact that Georgia once had a shot at some of the nation’s top performers — from Fields to Cartersville, Georgia, product Trevor Lawrence, who’s spending his Saturdays setting records at Clemson. Instead, 2020 left the Bulldogs with underperforming Stetson Bennett, inconsistent D’Wan Mathis and an absent JT Daniels.
How did the Bulldogs get here? The story starts sooner than Smart, and it can be charted across six years, three offensive coordinators, two five-star signings and one major transfer.
2015: Georgia native Trevor Lawrence gets a bad first impression
Georgia’s quarterback conundrum goes back before Smart’s hiring in December 2015, when high school sophomore Lawrence was spurned by then-offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer at a recruiting event.
Dawg Night 2015, a Mark Richt summer camp, featured both Eason and Lawrence, but Schottenheimer didn’t pay any attention to the future top prospect in the class of 2018. Smitten with Eason, Schottenheimer failed to offer a scholarship to Lawrence, who left disappointed.
Obviously, this wasn’t Smart’s fault. Hired under Richt, Schottenheimer didn’t make it onto Smart’s staff in 2016. Smart also led a strong effort to get Lawrence back to Athens, managing to get into Lawrence’s top three before he ultimately left the state and signed with Dabo Swinney’s Tigers.
The rest is history. Lawrence led Clemson to a College Football Playoff National Championship win in 2019 and another appearance in 2020, where he fell to LSU. He’s set up to be one of the top quarterbacks taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, and in some alternate universe, he may have ended up at Georgia.
2016: Georgia goes all-in on a mediocre Jacob Eason
The Bulldogs seemed wholly convinced that five-star pro-style prospect Eason would be the future, but Smart was a brand new head coach in 2016, and his first season ended at 7-6 with an Independence Bowl victory over TCU.
The result wasn’t all due to Eason’s flaws, but it certainly didn’t help that he finished his first and only full season at Georgia going 204 for 370 (55.1%) for 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
In the offseason, Georgia signed four-star Jake Fromm, the third-best pro-style quarterback in the class of 2017 whom Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney were able to flip from a prior Alabama commitment.
2017: Jake Fromm takes control
Eason beat Fromm out for the starting job against Appalachian State in the 2017 season opener, but the first game of his sophomore campaign ended after seven attempts with a sprained knee.
He was never able to regain the starter role from Fromm, who ended up taking the Bulldogs to a College Football Playoff National Championship appearance and narrowly falling to Alabama in that game.
By all accords, Fromm had a clean, consistent true freshman season. It was statistically stronger than Eason’s — 181 for 291 (61.2%) for 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions under the same offensive coordinator.
The problem with 2017, ironically, was how it set Fromm up as the leader under center for Smart’s Georgia. There was another face entering the quarterback room, Fields, who was signed in the December early period to plenty of pomp and circumstance.
2018: The Bulldogs overlook Justin Fields
Fields never won the starting job over Fromm or saw meaningful playing time in Athens. Even as Fromm faltered in a regular season loss at LSU and an SEC championship loss to Alabama, Fields was given a limited number of series and snaps.
There’s the obvious argument that Fromm had just led Georgia to a national championship appearance, but did Fields ever receive a real chance?
In the 12 games Fields played in for Georgia, he completed 27 of 39 passes for 328 yards, four passing touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns. Arguably one of his most memorable moments with Georgia was a botched fake punt late in the fourth quarter against Alabama in the SEC championship, putting an ugly bow on his negative time with the Bulldogs.
Fields entered the transfer portal in December 2018 and eventually landed in Columbus, Ohio. Georgia replaced Chaney at offensive coordinator with James Coley, hoping to breathe new life into an offense with Fromm, a third-year starter, returning.
During the offseason, the Bulldogs brought back Bennett, who had played on the scout team in 2017 but left for a year at junior college. Georgia also signed Mathis, who went on to start in the first game of 2020.
2019: Jake Fromm underperforms, Justin Fields sets records
Fields’ transfer became more of a sore spot in 2019 as he pillaged through the Big Ten, completing 67.2% of his passes for 3,273 yards, 41 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns.
He led Ohio State to a College Football Playoff berth, where he fell to Lawrence’s Clemson in the semifinals. Fields was invited to the Heisman Trophy presentation and gained plenty of national attention after a year of little exposure at Georgia.
Meanwhile, Fromm struggled through his first year without any real competition behind him, finishing with his lowest completion percentage of 60.2%, 24 touchdowns and five interceptions. The Bulldogs fell to eventual national champion LSU in an ugly SEC championship game loss and defeated Baylor in their second consecutive Sugar Bowl appearance.
The 2019 season was the start of the sting for Georgia’s quarterback situation. Sure, Fromm led a charge in 2017, but how could he have truly beat out Fields in 2018? What wasn’t clicking in practice that led to an outcome where, from an outsider’s perspective, the obviously better quarterback was waiting on the sideline? Was Fromm truly the best for Georgia?
While Ohio State stayed locked in with Fields, the Fromm era ended in Athens with his decision to opt for the 2020 NFL Draft.
2020: Jamie Newman opts out, Georgia left with a depleted room
Georgia reacted to Fromm’s departure swiftly, grabbing Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman with outside hopes of a rejuvenated offense under new offensive coordinator hire Todd Monken. Newman, a dual-threat with plenty of potential, was poised to usher in a new offensive era for the Bulldogs.
The reload didn’t stop with Newman, as Georgia brought in former Southern California quarterback JT Daniels recovering from an ACL injury. Daniels was a five-star prospect coming into USC, and while he played a losing season with the Trojans, going 216 of 363 (59.5%) for 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, he brought the second-most experience to the position behind Newman.
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in Georgia’s grand plan, however, with Newman’s sudden decision to opt-out of the season in early September.
While there was speculation swirling around Newman’s opt-out potentially being the result of him losing the starting job in the offseason, Mathis’ underwhelming start at Arkansas practically ruled that out. Mathis went 6 of 14 for 37 yards and an interception before he was replaced by Bennett in the second quarter.
From there, Bennett became Georgia’s starter, but his performance has steadily dwindled as the Bulldogs battle through their conference-only schedule with two ugly losses against Alabama and Florida behind a lackluster offense.
Back at Ohio State, Fields has played three games in 2020, going 72 for 83 (86.73%) with 908 yards, 13 touchdowns (11 passing, two rushing) and no interceptions. Bennett and Mathis, meanwhile, have combined for as many passing touchdowns as interceptions (nine).
Daniels still hasn’t seen a single in-game snap, and Smart insists Bennett and Mathis give Georgia the best chance to win. But from here, how can anything be certain?
Georgia had a chance (albeit long ago) at Lawrence. Georgia mishandled a room with Fromm and Fields. Georgia hasn’t been able to utilize Daniels, a former five-star prospect who has a full season of experience from his time at USC.
Where do the Bulldogs go from here? Nobody really knows, but one thing is for certain — it cannot be easy for Georgia fans to turn on a Clemson matchup or an Ohio State showdown and not think of what could’ve been.