ATLANTA — Jake Fromm won over his coach yet again even after he couldn’t win Georgia’s biggest game in almost four decades.
Fromm was the biggest surprise of Georgia’s breakout season. After finishing 2016 unranked and with five losses, Georgia won 13 games before suffering a 26-23 overtime loss to Alabama in Monday night’s national championship game.
Georgia (13-2) is No. 2 in the final AP Top 25 , and Fromm continued to receive praise from coach Kirby Smart even after a mixed showing in the championship game loss. The Bulldogs fell short in their attempt for their first national championship since 1980.
Smart said Fromm, who threw an 80-yard touchdown pass with two interceptions, “certainly kept us in the game with his decision making.”
“Jake’s a special kid,” Smart said. “He’s a gamer. He understands the game of football.”
Fromm took the starting job as Georgia’s quarterback as a freshman and led the Bulldogs to memorable wins at Notre Dame, over Auburn in the Southeastern Conference championship game and over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl playoff semifinal.
After Monday night’s game, Fromm and others paid tribute to a senior class led by tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Despite the loss , he said the season was “super-positive for Georgia football.”
“It has definitely set the standard,” Fromm said. “I definitely take all the hard work and use that as a new standard. You see what hard work does for you.”
Chubb and Michel had more yards rushing than any tandem in FBS history.
“We try to set the standard high so the younger guys know where to take it from here,” Michel said after the game. “We fell short today, and I think guys that are coming back understand what it’s going to take plus more to get back here.”
Smart said Chubb and Michel “meant more to Georgia than yards. A lot of heart and soul. A lot of fire.”
Among other key seniors were linebackers Lorenzo Carter, Reggie Carter and Davin Bellamy and defensive backs Malkom Parrish, Aaron Davis and Dominick Sanders.
Junior linebacker Roquan Smith likely will enter the NFL draft. Defensive tackle Trenton Thompson also could leave early for the NFL.
The losses at tailback and on defense will be heavy, but strong back-to-back recruiting classes will help fill the void.
The 247 Sports Composite ranked Georgia’s 2018 early signing class No. 1 in the nation. One of six five-star signees is dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields, who already has enrolled. Fields, from Kennesaw, Georgia, gives Smart a run-pass threat to push Fromm.
Smart added more talent at running back by signing Zamir White, who is recovering from a knee injury, and James Cook.
The favorite to start at tailback will be D’Andre Swift, who showed strong speed and big-play potential as a freshman despite never having more than 10 carries in a game this season. Swift led the team with 88 yards rushing and a touchdown in the Southeastern Conference championship game win over Auburn.
Georgia also will return running backs Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien.
Other players on the rise are wide receivers Riley Ridley, who had a career-high six catches for 87 yards against Alabama, and Mecole Hardman, who scored on a 1-yard run and 80-yard pass.
The returning leader will be Fromm.
“He sees spacing on the field. He sees guys open, very accurate passer,” Smart said. “I mean, I think, if you want to find out about Jake Fromm, go ask those guys on the other side of the ball, and they’ll tell you because that’s a really good defense he just went against.”
The Alabama dynasty continued, but Smart said Georgia will contend for more titles.
“Give them credit, but I think everybody can see that Georgia’s going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Smart said. “I’m very proud of this team and this university, and we’re not going anywhere.”