Kelly vs. Eason? Who wins is just one of Week 4's top SEC QB questions
The young guns are coming for the SEC’s top gunslinger.
Last week it was Jalen Hurts. Saturday it’s Jacob Eason.
Eason’s individual battle with Chad Kelly highlights the Week 4 docket and leads off this week’s pressing quarterback questions.
Question: Who throws for more yards Saturday, Jacob Eason or Chad Kelly?
Answer: Eason, in an upset pick. Ole Miss’ secondary sat back last week and dared Alabama to beat them with the run — which might be the strangest sentence I’ll write all year. They took away the Hurts’ deep ball and made the Tide win it on the ground.
As long as Georgia has Nick Chubb, not too many teams will be brave enough to dare the Dawgs to run. Eason had his first career 300-yard game last week and I expect another Saturday — as long as Georgia’s offensive line can keep him upright.
That will be no small task.
Kelly will throw for 300 yards because that’s the only way Ole Miss can win, but Georgia has some serious ballhawks on the back end of its secondary. The Dawgs are tied for second in the SEC with five interceptions. They’ll need to have a good day because thus far, Georgia hasn’t generated much of a pass rush.
And if the Dawgs just chase Kelly and don’t catch him, he might run for 100 Saturday.
Q: Now that Hurts, Eason, Danny Etling and presumably Brandon McIlwain are QB1, which backups are in the best position to steal the starting job?
A: Austin Appleby is only playing Saturday because Luke Del Rio cannot. There’s no real controversy in Gainesville.
So let’s focus on Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson vs. Auburn’s John Franklin III vs. Mississippi State’s Damian Williams.
Franklin is the weakest thrower in the group, so until Gus Malzahn goes full Paul Johnson and runs almost every time, let’s just assume that Franklin will continue to appear, out of nowhere, in random Wildcat plays.
Williams has twice come off the bench and outplayed Nick Fitzgerald. Both are similar enough that Dan Mullen can continue playing the hot hand without completely changing the offense’s identity.
Johnson is the one to watch. And judging by the reaction last Saturday, he’s the one most Kentucky fans want to watch. He’ll be the next backup to win a starting job.
Q: We’re 1/4 the way through the season. Which SEC QB has surprised you the most?
A: Drew Lock. I have no idea what he was thinking or what he thought he saw on that final interception against Georgia, but until that throw, he had been Missouri’s top offensive threat.
His numbers are still quite good — better than anybody could have reasonably hoped, considering Missouri kept insisting there was an honest QB competition all spring — and he’s still just a sophomore three games into a new system with a new coordinator.
Lock has a 3,000-yard season ahead of him. Several, likely.
Austin Allen has been a pleasant surprise too, even though the Razorbacks haven’t asked nearly as much out of him.
Joshua Dobbs and Brandon Harris have been surprising too, but in a disappointing fashion. Not every pitcher who throws 98 can consistently find the strike zone. Accuracy matters. And in their case, it continues to hold one back and keep another on the bench.
Q: Should Chad Kelly have returned for his senior year?
A: We debated this just before the NFL Draft last season, and I said then that Kelly might as well leave early because he wasn’t going to get any bigger and his measurables ultimately would decide his draft position. They still will play a role.
But he’s still among the best QBs in the country, and whatever he does the rest of the season won’t hurt his draft status.
So should he have returned? Sure because that’s clearly what he wanted to do.
Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert and Johnny Manziel were recent first-round picks. Russell Wilson was still available in the third round. It’s impossible to predict what some of these NFL teams will do in regards to quarterbacks, but Kelly will get his chance. Ultimately, that’s all that matters.
Q: When should Ole Miss start preparing Shea Patterson for 2017?
A: Let’s start with this: Kelly is not to blame for Ole Miss’ 1-2 start. They’d be a far less impressive, far less dangerous, unranked 1-2 team without him. So playing Patterson is not a decision to bench Kelly. It’s not even close to that.
But Patterson was the consensus No. 1 QB in the 2016 class, ranked ahead of Eason and Hurts, and the Rebels aren’t going to the Final Four. Another loss and I expect to see Hugh Freeze start giving Patterson a series or two here and there, possibly as soon as Oct. 1 against Memphis.
The back end of the Rebels’ schedule is soft enough to be considered extended spring training, and Patterson will get plenty of opportunity to take advantage of it.
Chris Wright is Executive Editor at SaturdayDownSouth.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.