Trailing North Carolina 24-23 with just over eight minutes remaining and staring down a third and five from their own 33-yard line, the Georgia Bulldogs desperately needed to keep their drive alive.
Jacob Eason, the program’s most-hyped true freshman in recent memory, responded accordingly.
Eason took the snap, stood comfortably within the pocket and kept his eyes downfield, despite pressure from a blitzing North Carolina defense. Calm and collected, showing the poise of a seasoned upperclassman and not an 18-year-old with less than a dozen collegiate pass attempts to his credit, Eason launched a flawless pass over two defenders and into the arms of a streaking Isaiah McKenzie for a 51-yard gain.
Four plays later, place kicker William Ham connected on a field goal that would put Georgia ahead for good
As you may have noticed, especially if you witnessed his 244-yard passing display in the Bulldogs’ spring game, Jacob Eason is not your ordinary 18-year-old true freshman quarterback.
The Lake Stevens, Wash., native did not start Saturday’s game, with first-year head coach Kirby Smart tabbing senior Greyson Lambert as the starter two days earlier. But aside from junior running back Nick Chubb, who rushed for 222 yards and two touchdowns in his return from a gruesome leg injury, Eason was the star of the evening — despite attempting only 12 passes.
Equally impressive as his clutch third-down connection with McKenzie was his consistency throughout the game. Eason was not perfect, but he was damn close, completing 8-of-12 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. He also appears to have already gained the trust of his teammates, quite the feat for a player less than 24 hours removed from his first game with the program.
But for those who believe Eason’s performance was enough to cement his place as the starter going forward, think again. Smart and the coaching staff, who are comfortable with Lambert’s game-managing ability, refuse to shelve a player with such experience just yet.
“There is no plan right now,” Smart said. “Right now we’ll assess the tape. We’ll make another decision. I’m sure all you guys will want to know who will start the next game, and we’ll start it all over again. Maybe you’ll know by Thursday, maybe you’ll know by Wednesday, who knows. We’ve got to figure all that out. I don’t want to jump to any conclusion.”
There may not be a definitive plan at the moment, and this trend could very well continue into the coming weeks. But one thing remains no secret: Eason is the future for the Bulldogs, and it is only a matter of time before he takes over.
Eason has the feel of a player who is destined to carve out a place for himself in SEC history. Along with his head coach, Eason is ushering in a new era of Georgia football after a decade without an SEC title. As crazy as it seems, he could be the top quarterback in the conference in 2017 with NCAA eligibility for Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs set to expire following the season.
Georgia heads into a two-week buzzsaw against Ole Miss and Tennessee starting Sept. 24 in Oxford, Miss. — a golden opportunity for Eason to make a lasting impression on the conference he could be dominating shortly.