If debuting a new quarterback comes with growing pains, then the Jackets are certainly not alone. Two of their rivals, the Clemson Tigers and the Georgia Bulldogs, are doing the same. Both teams are undefeated and serious contenders within their conferences, and while Clemson had more time to prepare for its new starter, both have learned much about their passers so far.
Kelly Bryant, Clemson
It seemed nearly impossible to fill the void left behind by Deshaun Watson — the former Clemson QB had led the Fighting Tigers to a national championship and just missed out on a Heisman Trophy, big shoes for anyone to fill. But somebody had to do it, and Kelly Bryant turned out to be that person.
Bryant’s speed, coupled with his cannon of an arm, means that the Tigers can lean on an elite running game while making big plays in the air. As a rookie, Bryant has led Clemson to back-to-back wins over ranked opponents, and even outclassed last year’s Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson, embarrassing the Louisville Cardinals 47-21 last Saturday. Bryant currently ranks No. 6 in the ACC in total yardage, and No. 2 in rushing touchdowns (behind Tech’s TaQuon Marshall). Bryant brings a balanced game to the Tigers, and is a strong headline for their offense. While surrounded by one of the best teams in college football, Bryant stands out and makes plays happen.
Clemson’s student paper, The Tiger, has had the opportunity to follow Bryant’s progression. Their sports editor, Alison Daniel, speaks highly of the young starter’s progression.
“Kelly Bryant has surprised a lot of people by being so efficient in filling the vacancy left by Deshaun Watson,” she said. “While the defense has made his job easier, I think he proved against Louisville that he can hold his own.”
Yet it is important for Bryant to remember that he need not perfectly fill the shoes.
The key to his success so far is him not feeling like he has to be Watson. He is playing his own game and doing it well. He has to continue to improve in his pocket awareness and his offensive line needs to get better as the year goes on if Clemson really wants to make another playoff run.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
It is one thing to step into a starting QB role as a freshman. It is a completely different thing to step into a starting QB role as a freshman during a road game against a Notre Dame team, particularly at a program facing lofty expectations. Yet following an injury to sophomore passer Jacob Eason, that is exactly the situation that Jacob Fromm faced. Despite the odds against him, Fromm managed to step up as the Bulldogs pulled out a close 20-19 victory against the No. 24
Fromm was not without struggle in that game, as he gave up both an interception and a fumble and only threw for one touchdown. Fromm’s 100.5 QB rating was the worst mark by a Bulldogs quarterback since Eason’s performance against Tech in the Clean Old Fashioned Hate game last November, and Fromm’s 151.3 rating on the season has been bolstered by feasting upon non-power five opponents like Appalachian State and Samford. Fromm still has plenty that he needs to prove going forward, and in the rough-and-tumble SEC East, he will need to adapt if the Bulldogs want to be a player in the College Football Playoff conversation.
There is a long way to go before bowl season, and both quarterbacks will undoubtedly face tribulations. Fromm is probably on the tighter of the two leashes; sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason, once a highly-touted prospect and freshman wunderkind himself, will certainly push for the starting job when he returns from injury. But both have given their teams plenty of reason for hope as conference schedules near. By the looks of it, both will have plenty of help from their offensive supporting casts, defenses and coaching staffs to guide them through a difficult transition.