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John E. Hoover: With Jake Fromm at QB, can Sooners gang up on Georgia’s ground game?

John E. Hoover: With Jake Fromm at QB, can Sooners gang up on Georgia’s ground game?

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm celebrates a Georgia win over Auburn after the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Atlanta. Georgia won 28-7. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

LOS ANGELES — Jake Fromm has had a handful of important teaching moments in his short tenure as Georgia’s quarterback.

The first was when starter Jacob Eason went down on the first series in the season opener and Fromm was thrust into the lineup. Another came the following week at Notre Dame, his first career start, when he lost a fumble but then helped engineer a game-winning drive. Another happened in a 41-0 victory at Tennessee, when Fromm got outside himself and threw a bad interception.

For senior left tackle Isaiah Wynn, it was another routine day in Athens.

“At one point in practice he told me I had a corner or somebody coming (on a blitz), and I just turned around and said, ‘Yeah, I know. I got this,’ ” Wynn said. “… Afterwards he came up to me he said, ‘Yeah, I know, you got it.’ So after that, we’re good.”

Fromm is the Bulldogs’ fabulous true freshman, a five-star prospect who caught an early break and has been better than anyone expected in leading Georgia to a 12-1 record, its first SEC championship in 12 years and its first berth in the College Football Playoff.

On Monday, Fromm leads the run-heavy Bulldogs into the Rose Bowl against No. 2-ranked Oklahoma.

“If you had told me this season was going to be written this way,” Fromm said, “I would not have believed you for one minute.”

“I think he’s been fabulous for a freshman,” said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “… Obviously, they rely heavily on their run game, so that’s a quarterback’s best friend.”

Oklahoma showed in last year’s Sugar Bowl wipeout of Auburn that the Sooners are capable of stacking the line of scrimmage and stopping a powerful Southeastern Conference running game.

That will be the plan again on Monday. The Sooners know Georgia will try to overpower them with the dynamic trio of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift, who have combined for 2,720 rushing yards (6.9 per carry) and 29 touchdowns on the ground this season.

“They put him in good positions to do what he does,” Stoops said. “We don’t look at him as a game manager. … They know how to get him in the situations they like.

“That being said, they don’t want to be third-and-long all day. They do a good job keeping themselves in manageable situations.”

It’s basically the same game plan Auburn hoped to use last year in New Orleans with Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson: move the line of scrimmage on first and second down, and throw a short pass if needed on third down.

But there’s a big difference this time: Georgia has a passing game.

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm (11) warms up before the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Fromm may be a true freshman, but he’s also a strong leader and capable thrower. That’s something Auburn didn’t have last year, especially after Sean White went down with a broken arm.

In that game, after White exited with a stat line of 4-of-10 for 35 yards, Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin combined to complete 8-of-16 passes for 118 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. With no threat in the passing game, the Sooners ganged up on Auburn’s talented backfield and won 35-19.

Fromm is good enough to beat the Sooners through the air. This season, he completed 145-of-230 passes (63 percent) for 2,173 yards with 21 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Those are hardly the type of numbers OU’s defense sees in a typical run through the Big 12 Conference — four Big 12 QBs threw for more than 3,000 yards and five threw for more than 21 touchdowns — but with the Bulldogs’ bone-crunching ground game, it’s plenty.

Fromm had only one 300-yard game this season (326 in a shootout victory over Missouri) and exceeded 200 only twice more (201 against Mississippi State and 224 against Georgia Tech).

“He’s probably going to be handing the ball off the majority of the time with the run game,” said Sooners safety Steven Parker, “but he’s going to cut your head off with the play action pass. That’s what Georgia does very well.”

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney looks back at the Tennessee game, when Fromm was 7-of-15 for 84 yards and took two sacks, as Fromm’s only “little blemish that he acted like a freshman once in a while. But he’s had a heck of a growth pattern from the beginning to the end. He’s got complete ownership in what we’re trying to get done offensively.”

Fromm’s teammates say they saw greatness as early as spring practice, when the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Fromm joined the team as an early enrollee from Houston County High School in Warner Robins, Ga.

“It was just obvious that he was just different as opposed to some other players,” Wynn said. “He always made sure that everybody’s matching his intensity, always came out there with the right intensity. So that was definitely a point in time where I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s definitely going to be a great player.”

Said Chubb, “Going back to spring football when he first came in. He’s always been outspoken and a great leader, and makes the right checks and great passes. From spring until the summer, from 7-on-7 into the game, he realized that’s who he is. Since he got here, he’s the same kid. He’s a great leader for us, and we’re just so happy that he was ready to come in and step in and play. He’s been great ever since.”

“He’s handled the season really well, only lost one game, and I just think he’s amazing,” said OU linebacker Caleb Kelly. “He controls his offense really well, he has great composure and he’s just, he just looks like he’s having fun playing football.”

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Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.

Columns

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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