Georgia Football: Jacob Eason is the Starter. Let’s Talk About That.
If you read this blog, you probably follow other Georgia sites, and know by now that Jacob Eason took all of the first-team reps at Wednesday’s practice. This comes on the heels of Kirby’s self-declared “huge” scrimmage early in the week, after which he said the quarterback competition was still wide open.
Jacob Eason will take the first snap of the season in Atlanta in two weeks, and will probably take every meaningful snap for Georgia for the next three years. Prepare yourself for some growing pains and some AMAZING upside.
If you put a gun to my head, I’d say rolling with Eason for North Carolina is the right call. One needs only to look back to the 2014 opener, when Clemson started a senior stud named Cole Stoudt while some scrub named Deshaun Watson came off the bench and led some nice drives in his first collegiate appearance at Sanford Stadium, of all places. Watson was CLEARLY the better option, but came on too late to make a real impact on the 45-21 Clemson loss.
North Carolina, Georgia’s opening day opponent, will put some points on the scoreboard. Allow their explosive offense to establish some momentum and it could be a long day. Eason, freshman jitters and all, gives Georgia the best chance to win the opener. Here’s why:
- Besides maybe Brice Ramsey (I’m assuming his decision-making is still less than ideal), Eason is by FAR the best option to push the ball vertically. North Carolina’s biggest weakness is the run defense, and they relied on safety help vs. the ground game a ton last year. S Donnie Miles led the team with 128 (!!!) tackles last year. Pushing him into pass coverage is a good thing for the Dawgs, as it’ll open running lanes for whoever the hell is going to be running the ball.
- UNC straight up lacks a pass rush. DE Mikey Bart led the team with 6.5 sacks last year, but the report is that he’ll be missing the game. EVERY other Carolina defender with more than one sack last year is gone, or injured. (UNC’s DL, their biggest weakness, is currently missing 3 of 4 starters from fall practice injuries). Eason is going to have a comfortable pocket.
- More subjective, but: This is the most meaningless game (from a W/L perspective) on Georgia’s schedule, but…Georgia just sold its soul for Kirby Smart. Mark Richt won 50 games over his last 5 years in Athens. Even in the honeymoon phase, Smart needs to get off to a good start to justify the move.
- Re: the last point: get Eason reps against a real team. Georgia follows with a nice, easy win against Nicholls States, which will net some valuable experience. Then, the grind starts: at Mizzou, at Ole Miss, Tennessee. If Georgia goes 2-1 in those (with a Tennessee win, preferably) the SEC East is Georgia’s to lose.
Is starting a true freshman in Week 1 a good idea, though? Being an early enrollee helps. Stolen from an article written in 2013, though, only six starting freshmen had a national-average quarterback rating. Terrelle Pryor, Matt Barkley, RG III, Braxton Miller, and Teddy Bridgewater are the notable names on that list– and Eason certainly has that pedigree. Check the article, there’s an AMAZING correlation between recruiting rankings and performance– 21 other true freshmen in this sample were downright bad. If Georgia were playing for 2017, well:
But that project lumped in redshirt freshmen with the guys coming directly from high school, and the subsequent years have dramatically widened the gap between those two categories. (Future quarterbacks can thank Andrew Luck, Kellen Moore, Taylor Martinez, Aaron Murray, Johnny Manziel, Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota for wrecking the redshirt curve.)
Georgia’s not playing for 2017. Not after the Richt firing. Eason is going to play, as well he should.
Eason has comps since that article was written, as Brad Kaaya and Josh Rosen have a) high-profile jobs; b) started their first games barely after starting fall classes; c) were heralded recruits; and d) were early enrollees.
Kaaya: at Louisville (L, 31-13): 17-29, 174 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, adjusted QBR of 40.6
Rosen: Virginia (W, 35-14): 28-35, 351 yards, 3 TD, 0 picks, adjusted QBR of 90.1
A reasonable expectation is for Eason to land somewhere between these two. Rosen’s performance was patently absurd, but he didn’t match that QBR for the rest of the year. Kaaya improved, but was inconsistent.
If Georgia fans are prepared for some uneven performances (and its not actually about the fans), the 2016 season will be volatile yet exciting. Eason will follow Kaaya (2017) and Rosen (2018) as likely top-5 draft picks, but he’s not going to be a Heisman contender from jump street.
All told? I like the move. Go all-in with the future, take some lumps, profit in 2017.