ATHENS, Ga. — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly sees the same thing on tape that Georgia fullback Christian Payne immediately spotted from the opening snaps of spring practice:
Jake Fromm has a presence.
Fromm, the freshman quarterback, flourished in a relief role for No. 15 Georgia last week when he replaced injured starter Jacob Eason and led the Bulldogs to a 31-10 win over Appalachian State.
“I thought him commanding the huddle was like that of a vet, someone who has done it for four or five years,” said Payne, a senior.
Leading Georgia to a home win over Appalachian State was impressive. On Saturday, Georgia will ask Fromm to make his first start at No. 24 Notre Dame. That’s a challenge on a much higher level.
Fromm’s teammates insist he won’t be awed by what may be the nation’s most renowned facility.
“I really like Jake Fromm,” Kelly said Tuesday. “You know, I think everybody says, well, he’s a freshman, and you know, he’s only had a couple of snaps. But look, I’m not an expert, but you know, I’ve been in this game a while, and he’s got a presence about him, and he’s very comfortable running the Georgia offense.”
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Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield saw a change in the Georgia offense with Fromm. He noted Eason, the sophomore, “was a little shaky to start the game” and “Fromm played well throughout the rest of the day.”
Fromm might have been on track for a redshirt season before Eason suffered a sprained left knee midway through the opening quarter. Just like that, Fromm was in the next huddle in front of more than 92,000 fans at Sanford Stadium.
Fromm completed his first two passes on his first drive. Each of the next three possessions led by the freshman produced touchdowns.
From the very start, Fromm showed the same poise, passing finesse and decision-making skills that made him a top recruit at Houston County High School in Warner Robins, Georgia.
Following the game, Georgia coach Kirby Smart said “There has not been a moment that’s been too big for Jake Fromm since he’s been a little kid. He’s always been that way.”
Kelly said Fromm “Just has that ‘it’ as a quarterback.”
Fromm made a quick impression when he enrolled early for spring practice and already knew the Georgia playbook.
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“When he first came for spring ball, I knew he was going to be something special in the future because he was out there making his own checks,” Payne said. “From the first day he already knows the whole offense. That’s a special kind of guy you don’t see a lot.”
Added wide receiver Javon Wims, who caught a touchdown pass from Fromm last week: “He’s a true field general. At first I was shocked by how fast he picked it up as a freshman but now he’s been doing it so long I’m not shocked at all.”
Smart does not make freshmen available for interviews, so Fromm hasn’t talked with reporters. Payne said Fromm talks a lot on the practice field.
“Sometimes in like seven on seven he’ll be talking trash to the defense,” Payne said. “He’ll get us all fired up and excited to go out there and practice.”
Eason won’t need surgery. Smart said Eason’s status after the Notre Dame game will be week to week.
Fromm and the Bulldogs are expected to lean on senior tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel . Still, there must be some balance in the offense to keep Notre Dame’s defense from stacking the line against the run.
Despite Kelly’s praise, Notre Dame will try to rattle Fromm.
“Make them win the game,” Kelly said. “Put the pressure on him, right? I mean take away all of his tools. … Obviously if we give him one look the whole time, he’s capable of hurting us.”