After months and weeks of anticipation, Georgia put forth a strong effort in its season-opening win against North Carolina. Nick Chubb’s health was the most important, pleasant surprise, but Jacob Eason’s play in crunch time was a close second.

The Bulldogs turned to Eason during some critical points in the game and the freshman played with poise. When North Carolina seized momentum with back-to-back touchdowns to start the second half, it was Eason who helped Georgia respond with a touchdown of its own.

Twice on that drive, Eason threw deep balls at Tar Heels freshman cornerback Patrice Rene that resulted in defensive pass interference calls. They were critical calls and would not have happened without Eason’s ability to stretch a defense with his arm.

While his decision to throw downfield helped the Bulldogs on Saturday, it’s also a large reason Georgia needs to start Eason in Week 2 against Nicholls State. Not because he can throw downfield, but because we need to see if he can’t.

The confidence Eason had in his arm to take deep shots early and often during his first start was impressive. But while that’s an admirable strength – and something Georgia needs – it was also a little foolish at times.

The coaches were smart to start Eason off easy with a swing pass to Terry Godwin in the flat. On his second throw, however, Eason threw a deep, play-action pass to Jayson Stanley with two defenders near him. It was a play designed to take advantage of a defense that would hopefully be crowding the box to stop the run, but the secondary didn’t bite and Stanley wasn’t open. The throw shouldn’t have been made.

On his third drive, Eason again threw into double coverage down the right sideline to tight end Isaac Nauta. It was arguably his most ill-advised throw, and the announcers correctly pointed out afterwards that he had a check-down man wide open who would have easily gained the first down.

Eason clearly has the talent to become one of the best quarterbacks at a school that has not lacked for great quarterbacks. But he is still young and needs to learn how to manage a game, which is exactly why Georgia should start him in Week 2.

Fans might cringe upon hearing the word “manage” after two years with Hutson Mason and Greyson Lambert at quarterback. The two have been considered game managers, a term that has become synonymous with weak arms and average talent.

Being a game manager is not an inherently bad trait, though. Game managers do enough to help their team win and are able to keep them out of bad situations. They make wise decisions and take care of the football, not letting their deficiencies affect the outcome.

Nobody labels New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a game manager, but he is the epitome of a player who makes smart decisions and puts his team in position to have an advantage on every play. He has a tremendous arm, but that is made all the more lethal due to his ability to manage the game.

Eason’s arm will allow him to make some incredible throws, but could lead him to make foolish mistakes. If a couple of his passes against North Carolina had not gone out of bounds, he might have been intercepted, which would have changed the game’s outcome.

Against Nicholls State, the coaching staff can watch how Eason handles an entire game. Will he try to go for the home-run pass on every play, or will he find his third option for an 8-yard gain? Does he have the awareness to know what to do on third down to get a first down? These are questions that Georgia should try to answer against an inferior opponent.

Eason attempted 15 passes, including three that didn’t count officially because of penalties. The breakdown:

  • 6 passes traveled 20 yards or more through the air
  • 2 were jet sweeps to Isaiah McKenzie
  • 3 were designed swing passes or screens
  • 4 were short slants our quick out routes

Sixty percent of the freshman’s passes past the line of scrimmage were long throws.

Again, that’s not a bad thing. But against teams like Ole Miss, Tennessee and Florida, there might need to be more diversity in his decision making. Eason has a fantastic opportunity to hone his in-game decision making this weekend, but it should be as the starter. The coaches should make this game as real as possible for Eason because it would help to have him go through a starter’s routine before SEC games begin — on the road, no less, in consecutive weeks starting Sept. 17.

There were some very encouraging moments from Eason in the North Carolina game. Obviously, his 51-yard pass to McKenzie was the highlight, but there was another pass to McKenzie nearly 40 seconds earlier that should really excite Georgia fans.

On second-and-12 at the Bulldogs’ 25-yard line, the Tar Heels sent a late blitz at Eason. There was no back to pick up the free man, but Eason quickly identified that the defender had been covering McKenzie. He took the snap and fired the ball to the now-open McKenzie, who ran a slant route, and gained 7 yards to set up a manageable 3rd-and-5.

Without that play, the 51-yard pass moments later likely never happens. Eason has a 5-star arm, but that was a 5-star decision at a pivotal juncture.

It will only help Eason to make more of those decisions and see more of those looks in a live game. It would help him that much more to experience those moments consistently, without stopping to sit on the sideline for a series or two.

Georgia is a much better team than Nicholls State, so there shouldn’t be any need to manage the game. Which makes it the perfect opportunity to see if Eason can do just that.

William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.