Jacob Eason still learning, but showed flashes of what's to come in first start for Georgia
Jacob Eason earned his first start for Georgia against Nicholls State, after sparking the team’s offense in the Bulldogs’ season-opening win against North Carolina. In starting, Eason became one of only five Georgia quarterbacks to accomplish the feat as a true freshman.
Eason completed 11 of 20 passes for 204 yards with a touchdown and an interception. It wasn’t the game many had expected from the Bulldogs in Eason’s first start, especially against an FCS program, but the freshman had some positive moments and some rookie mistakes.
Let’s start with the positives.
On the team’s first offensive possession, and it’s best one, Eason did a great job of facilitating the football. In five plays, the Bulldogs covered 67 yards in just over two minutes. Eason’s first throw was a swing pass to Sony Michel, who gained 12 yards after the catch. On the next play, Eason took a deep shot down the left sideline to Terry Godwin, who leapt over his defender, for a 36-yard completion. Nick Chubb scored from 6 yards out on the next play, and Eason’s first drive culminated in a touchdown.
The Bulldogs’ first drive was undoubtedly the high point for the offense. Georgia’s line struggled to create any sort of running lanes for the backs, which in turn limited the Bulldogs’ creativity in the passing game.
A terrific throw by Eason during the team’s third offensive possession would have given Georgia a first down in the red zone, but receiver Michael Chigbu couldn’t hang onto the ball. Focus on the throw, though, not the result.
Nicholls State dropped into zone coverage with a single high safety on second down, and Chigbu blew past the underneath zone defender and had the ball delivered on a rope before the safety could pick him up. Eason threw the ball from about the 40-yard line and hit Chigbu in the hands at the 5-yard line. Nobody has ever said he doesn’t have an SEC-caliber arm.
Eason had similar moments peppered throughout the game. On a 3rd-and-1o backed up at his own 5-yard line, Eason delivered a 29-yard strike to freshman tight end Charlie Woerner while standing in the end zone. He converted another third down on the same possession for Georgia, which ended in a field goal.
His biggest play came on yet another third down. During the ensuing drive after Georgia had fallen behind for the first time, Eason found Isaiah McKenzie in the soft part of the zone defense for a 12-yard gain, which McKenzie turned into a 66-yard touchdown.
The offense certainly struggled mightily against Nicholls State, but that wasn’t as a result of Eason starting at quarterback.
“We discussed it several times, it wasn’t anything that Jacob was or wasn’t doing,” Kirby Smart told reporters after Saturday’s game. “We didn’t think that was the issue, and, at that time, we thought we were going to have to throw the ball to score points, which we felt like he could do pretty well for us.
Eason is just eight quarters into his career, but he has thus far shown a penchant for impacting the game in crucial situations. The Bulldogs’ offense had been unable to muster any sort of consistent rhythm to that point and looked to be headed for another three-and-out. As it had done the week prior, however, an Eason-to-McKenzie connection sparked Georgia at a pivotal moment.
Eason wasn’t without his mistakes, though.
Against North Carolina, Eason’s default setting seemed to be: Throw it deep. That didn’t change very much Saturday. Nobody will fault Eason’s desire to stretch the field, but he must learn when and when not to. It’s something he will likely learn with experience, and he showed signs of that decision making Saturday when he pulled down a pass that would have been thrown into coverage and took a sack instead.
It looked as though Eason might make it through his second game without any turnovers, which would have been a feat in its own right, but he threw his first career interception midway through the fourth quarter. There looked to be some miscommunication on the play, as Eason’s pass deflected off Javon Wims and rebounded into the arms of a Nicholls State defender, which he returned 91 yards.
“It was a really safe pass that just turned out wrong,” Smart said after the game. “The kid didn’t make a good decision, he didn’t throw the ball where he was supposed to, and the ball gets batted, tipped and leads to an interception.”
The interception was one of a few mistakes he made in reading the defense. Earlier, Eason missed a wide-open Jeb Blazevich in the back corner of the end zone. He also seemed to throw passes harder than necessary in short space, which may have caused his receivers to drop several passes.
Eason’s limited experience might have impacted the offense in ways not completely obvious to spectators. As the offensive general, a quarterback is responsible for tempo and control of the players around him. That’s an area where Eason will need to continue to improve.
“We didn’t get great command out of the huddle, didn’t get great timing out of the huddle, that’s frustrating,” Smart said.
Nobody expected Eason to be perfect in his first outing as the team’s starter, but it was a performance he can certainly build upon. He displayed the strong arm that has been coveted by Georgia fans since they first watched his highlight tapes. He also showed made good decisions at times but also had several mental mistakes.
Eason’s only going to get better, though, and that’s the important thing to remember. On a day when Georgia’s offense struggled, it wasn’t because of the team’s freshman quarterback. He made enough big plays to help the Bulldogs win his first start, and that’s something fans have been longing to see from the quarterback position.
How Eason’s performance stacks up against other notable true freshman QB starts:
|Matt Stafford||10-17||107||1 (Rushing)||0|
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.