Every Washington fan has spent plenty of time looking at Jacob Eason’s 2016 stats by now. The short version is that he was a solid starter on a very good Georgia team as a true freshman in the brutal SEC. He ranked in the middle of the conference in every meaningful stat. But what about the context behind those numbers? To get a more complete view of Eason’s resume, I dove into the game-by-game details. The recap covers a lot of ground, so I’m breaking it into two pieces. Today, I’ll review the first half of his season. Come back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion.
Georgia 33 – North Carolina 24 (in Atlanta)
While this match-up might not look too challenging on paper, the Tar Heels came into the season ranked #22 (led by Mitch Trubisky), so Georgia had little room for error. As one might expect, the play callers leaned heavily on star running back Nick Chubb (32 carries for 222 yards) and tried to keep things simple for the true freshman QB. Keep in mind that Eason did not start the game; senior Greyson Lambert ran the first drive and the QBs took turns throughout. Still, Eason played a solid game (8/12 with a TD). He was much more productive than Lambert with 10.9 Y/A to Lambert’s 6.8. Lambert led the other Dawgs to the TD that sealed the game, but Eason’s big-play advantage earned him a longer look the next week.
Georgia 26 – Nicholls State 24
Eason played a larger percentage of the snaps in week 2, and his individual performance was broadly similar even if the team performance waned. Georgia went with a heavy dose of Nick Chubb once again, but he only managed 80 yards on 20 attempts. Eason still posted a strong 10.2 Y/A, but he also showed the types of swings associated with a freshman QB. With Georgia somehow down 14-13 in the third quarter and facing a 3rd and 9, Eason picked up a corner blitz and rifled a pass under a soft zone to Isaiah McKenzie. The fact that McKenzie took it 66 yards for a TD has more to do with him than Eason, but it was the right read and a good throw.
Moments later, Georgia had a chance to close out the game. Up 26-14 after a defensive TD, Eason had first and goal. After a negative play, he threw behind his tight end on a play action pass. The ball popped into the air and into the arms of a Nicholls defender, who proceeded to return it to the Georgia 7 in a Benny Hill-like comedy scene. Eason doesn’t deserve all the credit for McKenzie’s big TD or all the blame for the deflected INT, but the plays demonstrate his volatility.
Georgia 28 – Missouri 27
Kirby Smart showed far more trust in the passing game the following week in Eason’s first true road game. Facing an earlier deficit and playing from behind most of the game, Eason threw the ball a career-high 55 times. He finished with three TDs and one pick, including the game winning TD pass in the final two minutes. The interception was a textbook mistake. On 3rd and 10, he locked in on his slot receiver running a post. The safety read the play and easily stepped in front of the pass for a return deep into Georgia territory. The efficiency took a dip- 5.6 Y/A, 53% completions- but the game called for more aggressiveness and he found a way to make it work. After all, you can’t be too hard on a QB who stands in against a blitz on 4th and 10 to throw the game winning TD.
Ole Miss 45 – Georgia 14
The Dawgs clearly had some breaks go their way to win three close games to open the season. That luck turned quickly and severely when they traveled to Oxford. The Rebs kicked a FG on their opening drive. In response, Eason tried to fit the ball into tight coverage and the CB cut off the route for a pick-six. Georgia trailed 10-0 at that point and it was 31-0 at half. Eason finished an abysmal 16-36 for 137 yards against a poor Ole Miss team that finished 100th national in scoring defense (albeit better against the pass than the run). The only bright spot for Eason is that Smart did not yank him when the game got to 45-0.
Tennessee 34 – Georgia 31
Just three years ago, this Vols team attained the lofty rank of 11th in the land behind Josh Dobbs and Alvin Kamara. Eason put up good stats- 17/28, 211 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 1 fumble, and his only rushing TD of the year. He also engineered what looked like the game-winning drive in the final minute, highlighted by this absolute beauty of a throw to put Georgia up 28-24 with 10 seconds left.
The Dawgs bungled the pooch kick and Tennessee completed a Hail Mary with no time on the clock to pull out a miracle win. Eason’s game was another boom-or-bust variety. In addition to the insane TD pass that should’ve won the game (and a very good drive before it), he had two bad turnovers within a minute of game time earlier in the quarter. He lost control of a pump fake under pressure in the end zone and Tennessee recovered it for a TD. On the ensuing drive, he faced pressure again on 3rd and 15 and threw into tight coverage on the sideline for a pick. The situation made the latter error more forgivable, but the willingness to throw into dangerously tight coverage is a pattern.
Georgia 28 – South Carolina 14
On paper, Eason’s game looks like an abomination. He completed on 5 of 17 passes for 29 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. On the other hand, some of the accuracy issues came from dropped passes, and Georgia had little need to rely on the pass game with 326 yards on the ground. With Nick Chubb back from injury and Sony Michel established in his stead, the two-headed monster took over the match-up. To Eason’s credit, the Bulldogs got up 14-0 before the half and he protected the lead. His interception came on a ball that bounced off his receiver’s hands and straight to a defender. He threw a TD pass two drives later that put the game away for good. All in all, it was a poor game, but not as horrific as the stats indicate.
Vanderbilt 17 – Georgia 16
A week after a poor Eason game led to a good result, a much better Eason game led to a very bad Georgia loss. Eason threw for a career-best 346 yards (27/40) with a TD and no turnovers. Despite a 421-171 Bulldog advantage in yardage, Georgia struggled to finish drives and tapped out with a failed fourth-and-one run attempt on its final drive. Eason’s best stretch came with Georgia down 10-6 in the third quarter. He completed consecutive play-action passes where he read the coverage correctly and used touch to put the pass on the money. The second was a feathery-soft ball over a safety who bit on the play fake for a long touchdown.
Florida 24 – Georgia 10
The low point of Georgia’s 2016 season came the following week in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The Dawgs were held very much in check by their rivals and dropped to 4-4 on the season. Eason wasn’t awful. He took care of the ball against a dominant defense and managed a TD pass- the only time the team found the end zone all day. On the other hand, he was only 15/33 for 143 yards, a meek 4.3 Y/A. The vaunted running game wasn’t any better. Chubb and Michel combined for 24 yards on 11 carries. Eason faced heavy pressure all day. The lack of a running threat neutralized the play action game. He did manage a few nice plays, including a scramble away from traffic and a heave down the sideline that showed his arm strength without a great base. Later in the same drive, he made another solid throw on the run, this time across his body to an open receiver after the coverage broke down. Florida had one of the best defensive teams in the country in 2016 and neither Eason nor the rest of the Bulldogs were able to cope with it. The result put their season at a cross-roads.
Four losses in five games is clearly a low point for Georgia and Eason. Will they be able to recover? Come back tomorrow to find out! A cliffhanger finish!