Ole Miss will face another tough freshman QB challenge in Georgia's Jacob Eason
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Ole Miss facing a freshman quarterback.
At least, that’s been the case in the 2016 college urotball season thus far. The Rebels faced FSU dual-threat redshirt freshman Deondre Francois in Week 1 and Alabama true freshman Jalen Hurts in Week 3.
On Saturday, Ole Miss will face Georgia at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday and, wouldn’t you know it, true freshman Jacob Eason will be under center. Of the three, Eason is arguably the least surprising to be starting this early in his career.
The former five-star prospect ranked as the top pro-style quarterback for the 2016 signing class. That had many Georgia fans excited enough to favor him over returning starter Greyson Lambert throughout their offseason position battle.
Lambert was named the starter for the Bulldogs’ season opener against North Carolina, but Eason finished the game with more passing attempts, completions, yards and the only passing touchdown. The two split time in Week 2 before the freshman was named the starter prior to last week’s game at Missouri, which saw him lead a successful fourth-quarter comeback in a 28-27 victory.
But that’s not any different from the scenarios Francois and Hurts faced this offseason. Both quarterbacks were highly touted recruits who excelled as dual-threat options, something their veteran teammates lacked by comparison.
That’s why it’s not as surprising for Ole Miss to struggle against these freshmen. The Rebels haven’t faced some random 18-year-old, but rather blue chip prospects who can get by on athletic ability alone.
Both Francois and Hurts were capable of making plays with their legs, which is more natural instinct than experience. However, when they did throw, they were targeting receiving corps loaded with talent, which also eased their transitions to the college level.
Athletic quarterbacks provide mismatches by forcing opposing defenses to decide whether to leave defenders in contain or drop back into pass coverage. A blue chip freshman should be able to know when to throw or run based on the opposing defensive scheme.
Francois recorded 419 yards and 2 touchdowns on 33-of-52 passing, while rushing for 59 yards on 9 attempts. Hurts threw for 158 yards on 19-of-31 passing and ran for 146 yards on 18 attempts.
While the scenarios are similar, Eason provides a different challenge to Ole Miss’ defense. The freshman is mobile enough to scramble for extra yards but isn’t as big of a threat as Francois or Hurts. However, he is a more polished passer despite getting by mostly on raw ability.
— Jason Hall (@JasonHall1289) September 18, 2016
Still, this could be the most favorable matchup for Ole Miss’ defense. Eason will do most of his passing from the pocket, which should be easier to prepare against.
The Rebels will also have more game film to work with given that Eason has played in three college games as opposed to none in Francois’ case or two in Hurts’.
Also, Georgia’s offensive line has struggled through its first three games against defenses far less talented than Ole Miss’. The Land Shark defense should pressure Eason, which could shake the inexperienced quarterback’s confidence.
But that doesn’t mean Ole Miss should discredit the former five-star prospect or Georgia’s offense. The Bulldogs still have arguably the best one-two punch at running back in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and talent at the other skill positions.
Eason could be the latest freshman to have a breakout performance against the Rebels and add some momentum to what has been an excellent start to his college career.