With Jacob Eason 'week-to-week,' is a QB controversy on the horizon for Georgia?
Kirby Smart wasted no time Monday.
The hot topic — overwhelmingly so — coming out of Saturday’s victory over Appalachian State was the status of Jacob Eason, who left in the first quarter with a sprained knee and did not return. So Smart didn’t even bother with waiting for reporters to ask about Eason.
Instead, he addressed it from the jump in his opening statement during Monday’s weekly press conference.
“I will open with a quick update on Jacob. I know you guys are probably concerned and want information on that,” Smart said. “After our medical staff did X-rays and a MRI during the game Saturday night, they found he has a sprained left knee ligament, which is non-surgical. We expect a full recovery this season.”
Smart went on, saying that Eason was “performing rehab daily” and that there was no timetable for the sophomore’s return. But of course, the first question once Smart finished his opening statement had to do with Eason.
Would he be able to play in Saturday’s much-anticipated trip to South Bend, Indiana, to take on Notre Dame?
“Just to clarify, Jacob will not play this week,” Smart said, “but Jacob is going to be week-to-week from this point forward.”
That sound you heard was a segment of the Georgia fan base already predicting Eason’s transfer.
As anyone who has watched or read about last Saturday’s victory knows by now, true freshman Jake Fromm performed admirably after Eason went down. Fromm completed 66.7 percent (10-of-15) of his attempts for 143 yards, which included a 34-yard strike to senior receiver Javon Wims in the second quarter.
And he came out hot, hitting 8 of his first 11 throws.
Perhaps the most oft-cited stat from the win was this tidbit: After coming in, Fromm led the Bulldogs to touchdowns on three consecutive drives.
This came on the heels of Georgia going three-and-out on the full two drives Eason was on the field.
Sifting through the comments at the bottom of articles or on message boards, many Georgia fans were ready to anoint Fromm.
The offense looked more in synch with Fromm, they say. The offense had no rhythm when Eason was in the game, they exclaim. The Bulldogs’ offense might as well have been playing in cement cleats when Eason had the ball, they declare.
It was easy to jump to the logical end-game of their thinking.
Eason, for their money, is done at Georgia. He’ll stay the rest of the season, and, seeing Fromm has won over his teammates and coaches and is now the unquestioned starter, transfer back to his home state of Washington to play for a resurgent Huskies program — taking over for Jake Browning, now a junior, after sitting out a year to satisfy the NCAA’s transfer rules. Or perhaps he’ll transfer to sunny Miami instead, where he can reunite with Mark Richt, the former Georgia coach who led him to commit to the Bulldogs in the first place.
But let’s pump the brakes on any talk of Eason’s impending demise as Georgia’s quarterback.
Remember: Eason had earned the right to start at the outset of the season. The quarterback “competition” was over before preseason camp even began, as Smart revealed Eason was the starter at SEC Media Days in July.
If Fromm had proven to be a better option during the spring — or Eason had been underwhelming enough for it to be a cause for concern — don’t you think Smart would have held off putting Eason at the top of the depth chart? Further, isn’t two drives a ridiculously small sample size to conclude Eason hadn’t shown any progress since the end of last season?
Let’s also put what Fromm did in perspective.
Yes, for a true freshman playing in the first college game — in front of the biggest crowd he’s ever performed in front of — last Saturday was impressive. But consider the level of competition. Appalachian State ain’t Alabama. Appalachian State isn’t even North Carolina, Georgia’s opponent in last season’s opener. That Tar Heels squad was coming off an 11-win campaign in 2015, and featured a team that included quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
Fromm’s showing was an above-average performance for a true freshman quarterback playing against a stellar squad from the Sun Belt. Nothing more, nothing less.
We’ll have a far better read on Fromm’s future after this weekend.
The Fighting Irish had three sacks and 11 tackles for loss in last week’s 49-16 victory over Temple. And it was one of the nation’s best against the pass last season, allowing just 196.8 yard per game, which ranked 21st in the FBS. Further, five freshmen in that secondary saw significant time in 2016; that group is back, a year older and a year wiser.
The largest unknown about the Irish defense, then, is that it is in its first season under coordinator Mike Elko, who served in the same capacity at Wake Forest from 2014-16.
Elko’s specialty happens to be safeties. Last season, he helped Wake Forest strong safety Jessie Bates III finish as the runner-up for ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and earn a spot on USA Today’s freshman All-America team.
That makes Saturday a perfect test for Fromm. If he can excel against the defense — specifically, the secondary — that Elko throws at him, it bodes well for him as the season goes on.
Whether that comes in a starting role or as Eason’s backup remains to be seen.
It will be determined by a trio of questions: First and foremost, how much time will Eason miss? How does Fromm fare in Eason’s absence? And, when all things are equal, which player does the coaching staff believes has a higher ceiling — in short, which one gives the Bulldogs the best chance to end their long-awaited national title drought?
The list of starting quarterbacks who lost their job due to injury and never got it back is a long one.
There was a notable example in the NFL last season: Dallas rookie signal-caller Dak Prescott played so well after Tony Romo got hurt that the latter is now in the television booth. A similar injury situation begat Tom Brady, who drop-kicked Drew Bledsoe out of New England in 2001 and never looked back.
If Fromm struggles while Eason is sidelined, the sophomore will immediately reclaim the job when he’s healthy. If Fromm shines, Eason might as well get used to being a backup. But if Fromm is good-but-not-great — moments of brilliance juxtaposed alongside typical, understandable freshman mistakes — then Georgia will have a tough decision on its hands.
If that’s the case, make sure you know how to spell “controversy.”