Jacob Eason Can’t Save Georgia Football
Dude’s note: Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting data courtesy of 247Sports Composite Rankings.
Let’s be clear here: this is not another indictment of Mark Richt. I wrote that earlier. To be sure, this is an extension of that sentiment and as such this may touch on shortcomings of Richt and it may not paint the most optimistic picture of the future of a Richt-managed program. But I’m not going to state and re-state and re-re-state my stance on CMR. I’m not a #FireRicht guy at my core. I’m a “this isn’t working” guy. So I refuse to focus on the same broken narratives that premature Richt-haters have been pushing for years.
With that in mind, I think another false narrative needs to be addressed. Jacob Eason and the 2016 Recruiting Class can’t save Georgia football.
Here are the facts surrounding the notion that next year’s recruiting class will vindicate Mark Richt and save a program:
- Georgia has an elite recruiting class coming in.
- Mark Richt has influenced that class positively.
- This recruiting class features elite commitments at pivotal positions.
I can’t argue with any of that. But these items are also facts:
- Georgia’s recruiting class (currently ranked sixth nationally) still trails the two best teams in the SEC, Alabama and LSU.
- Ole Miss and Florida are within arm’s length of also matching Georgia.
- Perennial contenders Ohio State and Florida State are also ranked ahead of Georgia.
- Every head coach influences recruiting. That’s why James Franklin and Penn State have the nation’s fourth-best class.
Oh, also: none of this data is final.
And as it relates to recent history, it’s pretty damn hard to make a case for this class being significantly stronger than other classes in recent Georgia history. Recruiting isn’t an exact science. There are hits and there are messes. But consider these measurables:
- From 2011-2015 (the five most recent recruiting classes) Georgia boasted an average recruiting class ranking of 7.8. Right now, Georgia is ranked sixth.
- From 2011-2015, Georgia had an average SEC ranking of 4.4. Right now, Georgia is ranked third.
So there is improvement, but some of that has to be chalked up to early commitments. It’s worth noting that 13 of the nation’s Top 20 recruits are uncommitted and that pattern extends down the rankings. Many of the best of the best are still up for grabs.
Adjusting for the currently small class size (again, that’s normal at this stage), doesn’t make Georgia’s 2016 class look that much stronger than recent Bulldog classes. Over the past five classes, Georgia has boasted an average recruit rating of .90094. That probably doesn’t mean much to you (or me) in a vacuum, but it’s worth observing that this year’s class is projected at .9085. So as a reflection of per-recruit “points” this class is merely .00756 points ahead of recent history. By the same per-recruit measure, this class isn’t as strong as the 2012 or 2014 classes. To be sure, Georgia could fill in the rest of its spots with high-point players and raise its average. Or, it could not.
In fairness, that 2012 class was pretty spectacular.
Over the past five years Georgia has hauled in an average of 26 recruits. Projecting that total across 16 current recruits and their position rankings is difficult. But The Bulldogs currently have just two commitments from players that ranked in the top five of their position and age group in the class of 2016 and six that are ranked in the top 10. Over the past five years, Georgia has averaged 7.6 in the Top 5 and 10.4 in the Top 10 by the same measures. And again, recruiting rankings aren’t everything. We know that looking back, but it is worth remembering as we look forward.
There’s work to do for this class to be elite relative to Georgia standards. That’s not to say it won’t happen or to say it isn’t likely to happen. But I say all of this to emphasize that this class is very, very good but it doesn’t yet stand out compared to other strong Georgia classes. And it certainly doesn’t imply a head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest-program-changing status (think Ole Miss’s out-of-nowhere 2013 class).
Of course, the personified reason for optimism surrounding the 2016 recruiting class has nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with one player—quarterback Jacob Eason. I confess that I’m unusually excited about his potential. He looks like the real deal. But at this point Eason is nothing more than an elite recruit. And it’s important to remember that Georgia has had no shortage of elite recruits—even at the quarterback position.
Consider even the past five classes:
- 2011: Christian LeMay was considered the nation’s best pro-style QB in a relatively weak (as defined by recruiting rankings) QB class. He was ranked ahead of the likes of Everett Golson, Brandon Allen, Cardale Jones, Jacob Coker and Connor Cook.
- 2012: Faton Bauta was the nation’s tenth-best dual-threat QB. Why Georgia wanted a running quarterback is still a big mystery (even after his first career start and 3 rush attempts on Saturday), but he was mentioned in the Top 10 at his position along with the likes of Jameis Winston, Chad Kelly, Maty Mauk and a handful of legitimate starters at respectable programs.
- 2013: Brice Ramsey was a huge QB recruit and the nation’s sixth-best pro-style QB. How sought-after was Ramsey? Nick Saban controversially spent 90 minutes Skyping with the kid after he committed to Georgia.
- 2014: Jacob Park was the No. 5 pro-style QB in the country and the biggest controversy surrounded the notion that he might actually be a dual-threat QB.
Georgia’s problem has not been the recruitment of an elite quarterback. Georgia’s problem has been the inability to develop one of these guys (and that list includes Greyson Lambert who was highly recruited) into a valid option under center. And that problem won’t go away purely with the arrival of Eason. If anything, Eason extends the the excuse window of a program looking for change. After all, any rational person (meaning: anyone other than fans) doesn’t expect a total transformation under a first-year QB.
Georgia doesn’t have much of a hot-streak with first-year QBs (freshmen and veterans alike). How’s the Lambert/Ramsey/Bauta experiment playing out in year one? Hutson Mason was serviceable last year, but he wasn’t going to win games by himself and he wasn’t good enough to beat declining South Carolina or Florida teams or little brother Georgia Tech. Aaron Murray set conference records as Georgia’s QB; he also led Georgia to a 6-7 campaign as a freshman. Joe Cox’s one season as a starter: five losses. Matthew Stafford’s freshman season: four losses.
The reality is that even dating back to D.J. Shockley and David Greene, first-year QBs have yielded lower success (as measured by wins and losses) than returning starters at Georgia under Richt. In 2001 (Greene), 2005 (Shockley), 2006 (Stafford), 2009 (Cox), 2010 (Murray), 2014 (Mason) and 2015 (Whatever This Is) Richt’s teams posted a .6588 winning percentage. In all other seasons, his teams have posted a .7944 winning percentage. Over the course of a 13-game season (12 regular season games and a bowl), that’s the difference between winning an average of 10.33 games with a veteran starter and winning 8.56 with a first-year passer.
And that’s not a Richt thing or a reflection of poor personnel decisions. It’s not a Georgia thing or an SEC thing. New quarterbacks struggle. That’s a way of college football life. And it’s not hard to find statistics to support that notion.
Greyson Lambert, who once started at quarterback and is still probably the best QB on Georgia’s roster, ranks 31st in the nation in passer efficiency. Only one player ahead of him is a freshman. I say that not to imply that statistics tell the whole story or to indicate that Lambert should be good enough for Georgia to win, but rather to showcase that 18-year old QBs aren’t known for their dependability.
Even as it relates to Georgia, it’s hard to imagine Eason making up the difference quickly in Athens. The Bulldogs lost to Alabama and Florida by a combined margin of 52 points. If that gap were to be made up solely with improvements to the passing game, the Bulldogs (who have already thrown 10 total touchdown passes) would need eight more scores through the air. Guess how many FBS freshmen have thrown 18 TD passes this season? The answer is one.
But the broader issue here is not whether or not Jacob Eason can instantly be one of the best quarterbacks in the entire nation as a true freshman. The question that needs to be answered is how big of an impact could a stud quarterback—freshman or otherwise—have on this team? Football is a fluid game and each phase is intertwining, but how many recent disappointments lie solely on quarterback play?
- 2014 South Carolina: Hutson Mason led Georgia to 35 points in a hostile road game environment after a weather-delay. He hit on 73-percent of his passes, tossed two TDs and threw no interceptions. Georgia lost this game with some combination of special teams errors (missed chip-shot field goals), play-calling (though I disagree here) and an inability to stop the run late.
- 2014 Florida: Hutson Mason threw for 300 yards for the second (and final) time in his career and did not throw an interception. The offense as a whole was fine, accounting for 460 yards. The defense allowed more than 400 rushing yards.
- 2014 Georgia Tech: Hutson Mason threw a game-ending interception in overtime, but this game was lost by the defense (allowing 399 rushing yards on 70 carries) and special teams (the pooch kick).
- 2015 Alabama: No one played well here. No one. But this game was finished by Alabama in a five-minute period that featured Georgia’s defense allowing a 30-yard run for a score, Bama blocking a punt for another score, and Bama getting a 45-yard TD pass. Greyson Lambert was responsible for stalled offensive drives. But he didn’t give up that onslaught.
- 2015 Tennessee: If Reggie Davis hauls in the gift-wrapped 56-yard TD pass from Greyson Lambert late in the fourth quarter, then Lambert finishes the game with 335 passing yards, 3 TDs and no INTs and the game might not have been a Georgia loss. But even without that drop, Lambert didn’t contribute to Tennessee’s fourteen points in the final 64 seconds of the first half. He hardly came onto the field during that time period. He didn’t allow Josh Dobbs to rack up 430 yards of offense and five TDs.
- 2015 Florida: We could slice this one hundred ways, but I have a hard time for blaming Bauta (even with four INTs) solely for this loss. What was he supposed to do as Georgia’s third-best QB? He was put squarely in a position to fail and he succeeded at that calling.
The 2016 recruiting class and Jacob Eason may be great, but will that group fix special teams? Because special teams is a problem week-in and week-out. Will the 2016 class rebuild an offensive line? Because this veteran unit has struggled mightily this year. Will the 2016 class stop the run? Because Georgia’s allowed 274.5 rushing yards per game in six losses over the past two years.
Recruits aren’t the answer.
That’s all I got/