The Liberty Bowl might not be big for Georgia, but it's a huge opportunity for Jacob Eason
Only a moment ago, we were all wondering whether Jacob Eason would begin the season as Georgia’s starting quarterback and how he would fare in his first year against SEC defenses.
We now know that Eason did not start against North Carolina, but he took over soon after and provided several clutch plays in crucial moments to help the Bulldogs earn a statement victory.
That one game serves as a synopsis of sorts for Eason’s freshman year. He was inconsistent at times, missing throws that a 5-star quarterback should be expected to make, but he shone when the pressure was on and provided some substance to the hype.
Through 12 games, Eason completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,266 yards, 14 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. His 14 touchdowns are already the most by a first-year quarterback at Georgia, and he needs 219 yards to surpass Quincy Carter’s freshman passing record.
The record books are about the only place where Eason is still considered a freshman, however. Within the halls of Butts-Mehre, the quarterback is expected to take the next step in his maturation.
Kirby Smart made that evident when he allowed Eason to speak with the media for the first time all season in mid-December.
Smart has made it clear that he does not allow freshmen to speak to the media. Permitting Eason to head to the podium was a gesture that announced the quarterback was no longer looked upon as a first-year player.
This is exactly how you want to see a coach handle a true freshman. Eason was shielded from the media so he could focus on improving, but now that Georgia is preparing for a relatively insignificant game, Eason is getting a taste of his greater responsibilities.
Christmas came early for the Bulldogs when Nick Chubb and Sony Michel announced they would be returning, along with Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. The return of Chubb and Michel is extremely important for the offense but places greater pressure on Eason to get it done in 2017.
Despite his moments of brilliance, the fact remains that Georgia ended the regular season 7-5. With much of the offense returning, the Bulldogs will likely be favorites in the SEC East. The offensive line will remain a major question mark, but Eason might have the most to prove.
Just as Smart took the metaphorical kid gloves off in his treatment of Eason, so too will the Georgia fan base. His missed passes and poor reads won’t be met with the understanding that Eason is learning, but rather with criticism that he ought to know better by now.
With that in mind, the Liberty Bowl might not be an important one for the Bulldogs but it certainly is for Eason.
Life as a true freshman quarterback can’t be easy. Everything must be learned on the fly and there is no time to look back and evaluate. The onus is on what lies ahead; reflection can wait.
Now that Georgia has had an extended practice period ahead of the bowl game, Eason has had more time to work with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and focus on personal improvement. After a five-month spring, Eason now has a chance to catch his breath.
When speaking with the media, he spoke on the importance of gaining that experience and learning from it.
“I feel like having this season under my belt, building on this season, and getting ready for next season, is going to be a big thing for me,” Eason told reporters. “Because (of) the mistakes I made this season, I know I’ve made those mistakes, I’ll be ready to focus (on) them and learn from them and build off them.”
Nobody questions his tools. He has ideal size, a catapult attached to his shoulder, and a coolness under pressure. From the beginning, it was Eason’s feel for in-game action that seemed to be his biggest hurdle.
In the midst of a game, Eason appeared to feel pressure when it wasn’t there yet; he would rush through his progressions and fail to put proper touch on his shorter throws.
Those are all correctable issues, and ones that appeared to improve as Eason went through the season. With more time to go through film and discuss with Chaney, he should have a better understanding of what to do in a given situation.
Eason will get the opportunity to show that progress in the Liberty Bowl. TCU’s pass defense is improving, but Eason has the ability to beat the Horned Frogs with his arm.
But Eason has had the ability to beat nearly any team with his arm. What he needs to do now is prove that he can execute on that ability and put a complete game together.
Eason is no longer a freshman. Not in the eyes of his coaches, not in the eyes of the media and not in the eyes of the Georgia fan base.
With one game remaining, it’s time for Eason to show just what the future holds for the Bulldogs.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.