On Saturday, Georgia will hold its annual G-Day Game, giving fans their first chance to see Jacob Eason 2.0. Other notable SEC quarterbacks have shined in their spring games, so this will be an important statement for Eason to make.
Ahead of the G-Day Game, we took a deep dive into last year’s game film. We watched every one of Eason’s throws from 2016 and picked some of the best and worst, which we will break down in a two-part series.
On Wednesday, we looked at Eason’s worst moments as a freshman. Now, it’s time to look at the five primary areas in which he showed flashes of his great potential during a year in which he threw for 2,430 yards and set a Georgia freshman record with 16 touchdown passes.
Until a quarterback develops a good feel for the playbook and his receivers, it can be difficult to have consistently good timing. Eason had plenty of moments where he looked out of rhythm, but some of his best passes occurred when his timing was on.
One of the best drives of Eason’s first season came in the final series against Kentucky. On that drive, Eason was 4-of-4 for 42 yards to put Georgia in position for a game-winning field goal. He was particularly strong on timing routes like the one above, where he threw the ball in rhythm before Javon Wims had broken his route.
On other occasions throughout the season, Eason’s internal timing was nearly perfect.
With Georgia Tech sending an all-out blitz, and the Bulldogs running all deep routes, this play could have easily ended with a negative result. Instead, Eason quickly releases the ball as soon as he completes his drop and leads Terry Godwin for the big completion.
Some of the more nuanced plays in Georgia’s scheme require precise timing, where the quarterback has to understand exactly when to throw the ball.
Although this wasn’t an accurate pass from Eason, his timing on the play still allowed Isaiah McKenzie to reach the end zone. McKenzie’s route design, coupled with the outside slant, creates confusion among the defenders. If Eason holds onto this ball after McKenzie makes his break, however, the slot defender would have had time to recover and make a play.
This is one aspect in which Eason should be much more comfortable in 2017, but he still fared reasonably well for a true freshman.
This was a hurry-up, no-huddle play late in the first half against Florida, and it was actually the exact same play as the previous one Georgia had called. The first time, Eason found Isaac Nauta in the right flat. On the play above, Eason scans the right side of the field, then looks to the left flat before finding Godwin coming free on a deep out.
For some, pre-snap reads can be easier than going through post-snap progressions. In his first game for the Bulldogs, Eason identified a beautiful pre-snap read and it turned into a positive play.
Just before the snap, North Carolina’s slot defender crept towards the line and showed blitz. Although it was a close game in the fourth quarter, the true freshman didn’t panic and found McKenzie on the hot route for a nice gain.
With an exceptional backfield returning, Georgia’s offense will likely look to utilize a good amount of play-action passes. They proved last season that it can be devastating.
On this play, Eason sees the linebacker take a step forward on the play-action fake. Tennessee looked to be playing Cover 2 on the right half of the field, and the linebacker biting on the fake meant that the safety was left to cover Nauta and the perimeter receiver. The safety chose to cover the sideline, and Eason found Nauta for six.
Without a doubt, Eason has the most natural ability of any quarterback to suit up for the Bulldogs. Although he was inconsistent at times, Eason’s arm provided some mesmerizing plays and gave Georgia a downfield attack.
Against Vanderbilt’s zone look, Eason placed this pass nicely in the soft spot between the cornerback and the safety. Not only does he need the strength on this throw to get it past the corner, but his accuracy keeps it high and toward the boundary where only Reggie Davis can make the play.
Thirty-yard pass plays have been largely missing in Athens since Aaron Murray’s departure. In Eason’s freshman season, Georgia had 17 pass plays of 30 yards or longer, six more than it had the year prior.
Eason showed more of the same against Missouri by seeding it to Godwin on the sideline between the cornerback and the safety coming over.
Deep passes aren’t the only ways to judge arm strength, however. In fact, it’s intermediate throws that can sometimes require the most zip.
Not every quarterback has the confidence to make this type of throw, but Eason is strong enough to rope the ball into a tight window. Although this ball traveled only about 20 yards in the air, it required as much arm strength as any deep bomb.
It’s no secret that Georgia’s offensive line struggled often last season. At many times, Eason found himself smothered by the opposing defense.
There were times when Eason looked flustered while under pressure, but on a few occasions, he showed some nice poise and pocket awareness.
Although he didn’t complete this pass, Eason did a nice job keeping his eyes downfield and stepping up into the pocket. He even managed to put the ball in position for his receiver to make a play, albeit a difficult one.
Against Missouri, Eason displayed the same smoothness in subtly adjusting his spot in the pocket. Tyler Catalina gave up three sacks against Charles Harris in this game, and he may have given up another sack on this play had Eason not deftly moved around it.
Eason’s pocket presence allowed him to make what was easily his most memorable play of the season.
By moving up into the open spot of the pocket, and not rolling out away from the pressure, Eason gives himself a chance to set his feet and make an incredible throw. This pass is about as good as one can be, but it’s Eason’s footwork in the pocket that allows it to happen.
In the same vein as pocket awareness, Eason showed a surprising amount of improvisational skills in his first season.
Florida harassed Eason early and often, but he found success when outside of the pocket. On this third-down play, Eason breaks contain while keeping his eyes downfield. Eason directs Godwin as he’s running and then delivers a good-enough throw to create a big play for the Bulldogs.
Early in Georgia’s bowl victory against TCU, Eason once again stepped up into the pocket, but he then extended the play by rolling out to his left. While on the run, Eason still managed to square his shoulders and find McKenzie in stride for a 77-yard gain on third down.
A few times during the season, Eason proved he could improvise with more than just his legs.
Caught off-balance and out of position, Eason sees Sony Michel come out of the backfield but doesn’t have a clean throwing lane. Reminiscent of Matthew Stafford, the former Georgia quarterback who he is often compared to, Eason slung the ball sidearm to his running back and helped pick up a long third down.
Eason was far from perfect in his first season, but he’s got tremendous upside. He provided plenty of reasons why Bulldogs fans should still be excited about his development, and Kirby Smart has been complimentary of his sophomore quarterback this spring.
G-Day will offer the first chance for Eason to display the improvements that he’s made. He should be more comfortable in Jim Chaney’s offense and have great familiarity with the players around him, which should allow Eason to put on quite a show.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.