When Jacob Eason enrolled in January, his ambition from was to be Georgia’s starting quarterback from the start.
In just the second game of the season, he’ll have this opportunity.
While Greyson Lambert earned the nod in Week 1’s 33-24 win over North Carolina, Eason has been named the starting quarterback for Saturday’s game against Nicholls State. While he didn’t start a week ago, Eason played almost half of the offensive snaps and ended with the better stat line – 8-of-12 passing for 131 yards and a touchdown.
His presence on the field could be felt by everyone inside the Georgia Dome, which led to what can now be considered a logical conclusion. Eason proved he’s capable of starting and has the tools that can possibly offer additional balance to Georgia’s offensive attack.
This is what Eason came to Georgia to do, considering the opportunity to play early was presented by both of the coaching staffs that recruited him.
“That would be my goal,” Eason said, when asked in February if he wanted to win the starting job as a true freshman.
Lambert had a solid game against North Carolina, going 5-of-8 passing for 54 yards. His stat line would have been slightly improved, too, if tight end Isaac Nauta didn’t drop a pass thrown his way after beating his defender on a slant pattern.
But the upside with Eason is evident and figures to be a reason why the Georgia coaching staff went ahead to make him the starter in Week 2. After the Nicholls State matchup, Georgia will hit the road and visit Missouri and Mississippi, two conference games that could determine the Bulldogs’ standing in the SEC East race.
And then after those two games, Georgia will host Tennessee at home on Oct. 1.
While true freshman quarterbacks are still likely to redshirt compared to other positions, more are getting an opportunity to start. Before jumping into the top 25, previously unranked Texas defeated Notre Dame with true freshman Shane Buechele at quarterback.
Alabama’s Jalen Hurts didn’t start in his team’s rout over USC but impressed with 150 total yards and four touchdowns. Last season, UCLA started Josh Rosen at quarterback in his first year on campus and saw him throw for 3,670 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Two decades ago, it would have been tougher to plug a true freshman quarterback in a starting role, head coach Kirby Smart noted. But the high school game has adapted over the years, which has led to more advanced teaching to prepare quarterbacks for the spotlight early on.
“Since the advent of high school 7-on-7, they see so much more, they throw so much more, they’ve seen a lot of the defenses before,” Smart said. “There’s a lot more prolific offenses out there in high school football. More teams are throwing in high school football. The Wing-T has gone away. There’s a lot more spread element in high school, and high school programs are feeder programs. I certainly think quarterbacks come in with more ability to play early.”
Eason was asked to throw the football a lot with high school football team in Lake Stevens, Washington. As a senior, he compiled 3,585 yards and 43 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions.
His 51-yard throw to Isaiah McKenzie against North Carolina was a great example of why he came to Georgia with so much hype. In a critical situation, Eason looked the safety off his preferred route and redirecting him to the middle of the field. With enough space on the outside, Eason lofted a perfectly-thrown ball down the right sideline to McKenzie for the big gain.
“He just threw a great pass and I made a great play,” McKenzie said.
Plays like that are indicative of what Eason can do. And preparing the freshman phenom for an upcoming three-game stretch against Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee, while raising his confidence in the process, will be important for this Georgia coaching staff to do Saturday against Nicholls State.