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September 10 2016: Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Jacob Eason (10) on the sideline during the second half. The Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Nicholls State Colonels 26- 24 at Sanford stadium in Athens, Georgia.(photo by Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire
Georgia Bulldogs

UGA should start Jacob Eason against Missouri

photo by Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire

Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason is just a freshman, and no matter how good he is now or will be in the future, freshmen generally have a steep learning curve.

Especially at the quarterback position, the speed of the game and the amount a young player has to learn compared to the high school level are shocking. Struggles of any kind shouldn’t be discouraging for UGA fans.

These things happen.

Yes, Eason is a former five-star recruit — he was ranked the No. 2 quarterback in the nation, according to the industry-generated 247Sports Composite — and yes, he has flashed some all-world talent at times.

He completed 8-of-12 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown as a backup in Georgia’s season-opening win against North Carolina, and last weekend in his starting debut he did do some good things. Eason completed 11-of-20 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown against Nicholls State, though he was picked off near the goal line midway through the fourth quarter.

Georgia was up 26-14 at the Nicholls 10-yard line, trying to put the game out of reach. Eason threw a poor pass on a crossing route that was tipped and intercepted by Jeff Hall. The Nicholls defender took the interception 91 yards, which set up a field goal, cutting UGA’s lead to 26-17 with 7:50 to go in the game.

The very next series head coach Kirby Smart decided to go with senior Greyson Lambert at quarterback, who finished out the game for the Bulldogs.

Georgia did end up winning, 26-24, but it was too close to comfort — especially for a team that is expected to compete in the SEC. Eason’s interception wasn’t the only reason the game was so close, but it was certainly a turning point in the game.

Heading into Week 3’s matchup with Missouri, Smart has yet to determine who his starting quarterback will be. He could go with the steady hand in Lambert — who has senior experience and won’t be rattled by a SEC game on the road — or he could stick with Eason, who is clearly talented and the future of the program.

Much like his old boss Nick Saban, Smart has so far refused to commit.

“We don’t make decisions based on Tuesday, coming out of practice,” Smart said regarding UGA’s quarterback situation. “It’s not the right time. There are a lot of parts that aren’t out there yet.  So we’ve got to establish exactly what we’re gonna do in all of those situations and figure out who does the best job of doing those things in those situations.”

There are certainly reasons to consider starting Lambert.

He was UGA’s starter against a very good North Carolina team, and he’s thrown for 3,987 yards and 23 touchdown (15 interceptions) in his four-year college career. That includes 1,959 yards and 12 touchdown last season for the Bulldogs, a campaign in which he threw only two interceptions.

Still, Eason had the more productive day against UNC — he threw for 131 yards and a touchdown compared to Lambert’s 54 yards with no touchdowns — and it’s not as though he’ll be on his own against the Tigers.

September 10 2016: Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Jacob Eason (10) throws the ball during warm up. The Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Nicholls State Colonels 26- 24 at Sanford stadium in Athens, Georgia.(photo by Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire

(photo by Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire

In this quarterback controversy, it could be easy to overlook the fact that the Bulldogs have one of the best running backs in college football, Nick Chubb. Ideally, whoever starts and plays for Georgia against Missouri will simply have to hand the ball off to Chubb and watch him work his magic.

UGA’s star ran for 222 yards and two touchdowns against the Tar Heels in Week 1. Against Nicholls, he notched 80 yards and a score.

It may be tempting for Smart to lean on experience in this situation, but experience — or lack thereof — is the biggest reason he should give Eason the start in Week 3.

The here and now is important for UGA, but there’s still Eason’s long-term development to consider. There may not be a better opportunity to learn how to be a starting quarterback on the road against an SEC team than this weekend.

Missouri is in rebuilding mode. Though the Tigers do have some good defensive pieces, they gave up 26 points to West Virginia and 21 points to a bad Eastern Michigan program that had to travel to Columbia. This is a program that won only one SEC game last season and gave up 494 total yards to WVU in Week 1.

Mizzou is still trying to find its footing with new head coach Barry Odom in his first season. The Tigers will provide Georgia a test, but this is the definition of a winnable game for a team that’s ranked No. 16 in the nation.

Starting Eason may give him a boost of confidence after getting pulled last week, and a road win against an SEC opponent — no matter the opponent — would certainly be a notch on the belt of the young quarterback.

It could become a formative experience for Eason, and that’s perhaps the biggest reason Smart should go with him as the starting quarterback this weekend.

UGA should start Jacob Eason against Missouri

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