The coaching bromide that young quarterbacks sit and learn behind veterans suffers another hit this weekend. It already has been in tatters with QBs like Louisville’s Lamar Jackson winning last year’s Heisman Trophy as a true sophomore.
This week’s hit plays out in a Top 25 matchup: No. 15-ranked Georgia (1-0) vs. No. 23 Notre Dame (1-0) Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Georgia returning starting quarterback Jacob Eason began the season as a true sophomore veteran. As young as he is, though, he had experience on Notre Dame redshirt sophomore rookie starter Brandon Wimbush.
But the script has flipped.
Eason has been ruled out of the Notre Dame game after he suffered a strained knee ligament injury in last week’s 31-10 win over Appalachian State.
Does Georgia coach Kirby Smart turn to fifth-year graduate student Ramsey Brice? No, he trusts true freshman Jake Fromm with his first start.
That recasts Wimbush, with one start in Notre Dame’s 49-16 win over Temple last week, as the veteran.
It’s the second straight year that Smart has turned to a true freshman under center. A year ago, Eason came on relief in the season-opening win over North Carolina and held the starting job for the final 12 games of an 8-5 season. That explains his oxymoron label of true sophomore veteran.
“Sometimes it happens the unexpected way,” Smart told the Georgia media. “You certainly don’t script that to happen that way. I thought (Fromm) came in and managed the situation well.
“Every situation will be different because App State obviously wasn’t planning for him, so the next team probably will be. We know that. Jake Fromm is a mature freshman that’s going to be able to take over the offense and hopefully go out and execute. He’s got some good players around him. He’s got to use those guys.”
Eason went down midway through the first quarter of the Appalachian State victory. Fromm, a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder who was a 5-star recruit out of Warner Robbins, Ga., finished the game 10-for-15 passing for 143 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Fromm certainly doesn’t lack for confidence. He wasn’t dissuaded from signing with a school that had a true freshman quarterback. Eason won’t be eligible for the NFL draft until after the 2018 season.
Wimbush moved into the starting role when Malik Zaire transferred to Florida. He played like a veteran in first start against Temple.
Wimbush (6-1, 228) finished with 290 total yards and three touchdowns. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 184 yards and two TDs without an interception. He exploited Notre Dame’s run-pass-option offense as one of three 100-yard rushers.
“I thought that for a guy starting for the first time, he provided some excitement and energy to the offense,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “I think everybody that watching him can see the tools he has; the ability to run, to throw the football. He’s tough. He got hit and he got back up.”
RUNNING GAMES TO CARRY LOAD
Both young quarterbacks have strong running games to help them through their early starts.
Georgia senior Nick Chubb (5-10, 225) ran 15 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns and senior Sony Michel (5-11, 215) had 16 runs for 87 yards and one TD. Chubb is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher — 1,130 in 2016 and 1,547 in 2014. He was well on pace for a 1,000-yard season in 2015 before an injury limited him to 747 yards in six games.
Notre Dame had three 100-yard rushers last weekend behind a big offensive line that features preseason All-Americans — left tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson. Junior Josh King ran 19 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns, junior backup Dexter Williams had six carries for 124 yards and a score and Wimbush rushed 12 times for 106 yards and a TD.
“They’ve got three good, physical backs and, counting the quarterback, that’s four because he really runs well,” Smart said. “They are a big, physical football team. Across the front, they’re the biggest team we’ll play when they line up. The tight ends are huge. They’d probably say the same thing about us, but I don’t know if our guys are quite as big as theirs are.”
• Some help at safety might have tilted a game or two down the road for Notre Dame this year, but the Irish will be without Navy transfer Alohi Gilman. Kelly has announced that the NCAA denied Gilman’s appeal for immediate eligibility. Gilman, who was Navy’s second-leading tackler, will be eligible in 2018 as a redshirt sophomore.
• Notre Dame is deep at tight end with or without graduate student Durham Smythe. He was held out of practice following Saturday’s hit to the head, but has been progressing through the team’s concussion protocol. Smyth had two catches for 34 yards. Notre Dame’s stable of tight ends includes junior Alize Mack (two catches, 17 yards) and redshirt junior Nic Weishar (three catches, 20 yards, one TD).
• Kelly explained that the Irish’s strategy of scheduling a tough Southeastern Conference opponent is designed to overcome not having a tough conference championship game. Pundits in college football suggest Notre Dame is hurting its case for a College Football Playoff Berth without a 13th game to win in a conference championship game.
“We felt our regular-season schedule has to stand up against teams that are for the most part playing 13 games,” he said.
Follow Tom Shanahan’s FanRag Sports stories on Twitter @shanny4055