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Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm points to the Missouri defense last month before beginning a play that has an option to run or throw the ball.

ATHENS, Ga. — Given that Georgia entered its most recent football game having averaged 355 rushing yards in its four previous contests, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp decided that if his Gamecocks were going to lose, they would lose because of Bulldogs freshman quarterback Jake Fromm.

Fromm responded by completing 16 of 22 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns in Georgia's 24-10 win last Saturday.

"He was very accurate, and I thought he made some critical throws on critical downs," Muschamp said this week. "He made a great throw on third down in the end zone to Mecole Hardman, which was an outstanding, back-shoulder inside fade. He made a couple of throws in very contested, tight coverage.

"I certainly thought he was capable, but we were going to make sure he could. I compliment him in the highest regard for the throws he made in that game."

Fromm's sensational season continued with last week's showing, and the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder from Warner Robins, Ga., now ranks third nationally with an efficiency rating of 172.70. He has completed 95 of 150 attempts (63.3 percent) for 1,459 yards with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions heading into this Saturday's showdown between the Bulldogs (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) and host Auburn (7-2, 5-1) — Georgia is No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Tigers 10th — but where Fromm has excelled arguably even more is with his decisions.

The playbook for Georgia's offense under coordinator Jim Chaney is filled with run-pass options, or RPOs, and it's up to Fromm to read the defense before the snap and decide whether it will be a run or a pass.

"We know from the sideline what it's going to be based on the look, but he could decide to do different based on what he sees," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. "That's why it's really important the person in that position understands the gravity of which it could affect the game. You want a trigger man who makes good decisions and understands the game and has instincts."

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In Georgia's 45-14 win over Vanderbilt on Oct. 7, the Bulldogs opened with a seven-play, 83-yard touchdown drive: five rushes by Nick Chubb, one by Sony Michel and one by D'Andre Swift.

Yet in Georgia's first two possessions last Saturday, which consisted of 21 plays for 136 yards, Fromm threw nine times and left Muschamp just as marveled by the quarterback's intelligence as his talents.

"You've got to make extremely quick decisions with the ball in your hand as far as handing it off, pulling the ball or making an accurate throw in tight space while a receiver is running," Muschamp said. "It's extremely difficult, and I thought he really managed those first two drives, because he took their offense down the field primarily throwing RPOs. We were obviously committed to stopping the run, which left some one-on-ones, and he was very accurate with the football.

"You've got to tip your hat to him on that."

Georgia players have been tipping their hats to Fromm since August, when his knowledge of the offense was on display as Jacob Eason's backup.

"He's amazing at how he makes so many great decisions," senior inside linebacker Reggie Carter said. "He's been the guy we need for our team. He's done a heck of a job making reads."

Said senior tailback Sony Michel: "The way he prepares is unbelievable. He and Coach Chaney watch a lot of film, and he's well aware of what he's doing."

Fromm could be facing his toughest challenge of the regular season Saturday, given that Jordan-Hare Stadium could present the most hostile atmosphere he has experienced. Georgia fans purchased so many tickets to Notre Dame on Sept. 9 that the Fighting Irish did not have a decided crowd advantage in South Bend, and the Bulldogs were able to take Tennessee fans out of that Sept. 30 game in Knoxville with a 24-0 halftime lead.

Only time will tell if Fromm can continue making the right calls, which could keep the Bulldogs undefeated.

"I think playing in that Notre Dame environment was really good for him because that was one of the tougher environments," Smart said. "Early in the Tennessee game was that way. He continues to improve each day, and this will be another tough environment. He has to make good decisions. He has to execute the plan. He has to be able to give the playmakers the ball.

"As long as he does those things and makes good decisions, we are a pretty good football team."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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