ATHENS — Imagine how much different Georgia’s quarterback situation could look right now. Imagine if Kirby Smart hadn’t been able to flip Jake Fromm from Alabama and he’d decided to stick with the Crimson Tide. Imagine if Brice Ramsey hadn’t heeded the call to come back to UGA for his last season of eligibility.
As it is, everything has worked out quite well. One of the worst-case scenarios everybody could have imagined at the season’s outset happened. That is, quarterback Jacob Eason did go down with a serious injury in the first game of the season and the Bulldogs were forced to go with a backup. Yet all is well between the hedges.
Fromm actually has looked pretty darn good in his relief role; real good, in fact, from the perspective of being a true freshman. As a result, Georgia has managed to hold serve and arrives at Saturday’s SEC opener right where everybody expected it to be, 3-0, ranked No. 11 and favored against a Mississippi State squad that’s a whole lot better than everybody expected.
Then comes this little wrinkle — Eason’s back. Or, at least he’s back on the practice field. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback with the cannon arm was throwing with the other quarterbacks during pass skeleton drills on Monday. What he did after the 10-minute period that the media was able to observe practice, who knows? But at least from an appearances standpoint, Eason is back on the practice field, which would lead one to believe he’s close to being in position to play in games.
A few things on Eason’s status first. Write this down somewhere if you’d like: He is not going to play on Saturday.
I’m sure Smart would like you — or, more specifically, would like Mississippi State — to think that Eason might be able to go on Saturday. As Smart glibly said this week regarding Eason’s status, “anything’s possible,” and I guess it is. But I would be thoroughly shocked if that happened.
Not that I’m an orthopedist or anything, but I’ve been around this game long enough to know that a knee sprain means you’re not going to be around a while. Plus, I have Google on my typing machine. So there’s a little info around about knee sprains.
UGA has been very vague when it comes to the exact nature of Eason’s injury. There are many who claim to have inside knowledge who have said he suffered an “LCL sprain,” that is, a stretching of the lateral collateral ligament, when he was shoved out of bounds in the first quarter of Georgia’s first game against Appalachian State.
But we don’t know that for a fact, so let’s just say, “knee sprain.” That could mean the LCL or MCL (medial collateral) or PCL (posterior cruciate) or ACL (anterior cruciate), any one of those ligaments could’ve been stretched on Sept. 2. According to health.harvard.edu, there’s really no exercise or procedure to get over such an injury. The only path to recovery is what they call “RICE,” and acronym for rest, ice, compression and elevation.
We also don’t know the grade of the sprain. But if it’s a I or II (III being the worst) as presumed, an athlete can come back in as few as four weeks, according to these online medical journals. As of Tuesday, Eason is 17 days removed from suffering his injury. It’ll be exactly three weeks on Saturday.
So, again, not beyond the realm of possibility. But also unlikely.
Eason’s injury was to his left knee, which is the “pivot leg” for a right-handed quarterback. Monday he was wearing a bulky brace on that knee, the one that faces an oncoming rush in a football game. It’s also the one that a good passer is supposed to end up with all his weight on if he’s delivering the ball correctly. And he also needs to use it on the occasion that he has to evade the rush or, God forbid, has to actually run with the football.
Lest we forget, and overlooking whatever one’s personal thoughts might be regarding Eason’s relative abilities as a quarterback, he is a former 5-star recruit with NFL aspirations. I don’t believe Georgia, or Eason’s family, is going jeopardize any of his future prospects by rushing Eason back to play against what appears to be an elite defense in the Bulldogs’ SEC opener.
So let’s just be done with that whole conversation, OK? Eason’s not going to play this week. And if I had to guess, not for a few weeks still.
But here’s the beauty of it — the Bulldogs don’t need him to.
If nothing else, Fromm has proven that. The kid can play. He can get it done. Georgia’s offense can operate just fine with the freshman from Houston County at the controls. The Bulldogs are 3-0 behind him. They’re averaging 31 points a game (6th in SEC). He’s completing more pass attempts than he’s not (59.6 percent) and, despite two lost fumbles and an interception, he’s not readily giving the ball away.
Are the Bulldogs as explosive as they might be with Eason? Probably not. For all of Fromm’s strengths such as football aptitude, processing information quickly and getting the Bulldogs in and out of plays, he can’t replicate the arm talent that Eason possesses. It doesn’t reveal itself very often, but that deficiency becomes evident once in a while when Fromm attempts a deep out and will be even more so apparent against the SEC’s top defenses, such as the one Georgia will face on Saturday.
The Bulldogs currently are last in the SEC in passing offense (154.3 ypg) and it shouldn’t be. Ever. Whether it also would be with a healthy Eason, there’s simply no way of knowing. But it’s not a stretch to think the Bulldogs would be tossing the pigskin around a little better if a 16-game sophomore starter was at the helm rather than a rookie getting ready to face his first SEC defense.
But that’s not the cards Georgia has been dealt. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they know they have a real gamer under center right now in Fromm. And here’s the deal: it’s not a static situation. He’s going to get better and continue to feel more and more comfortable in his role.
It could’ve looked a whole lot different. At one point, McEachern’s Bailey Hockman was the quarterback the Bulldogs had committed for 2017. Who knows what kind of quarterback he’ll turn out to be, but he’s currently running fourth team down at Florida State.
In all, Georgia offered four quarterbacks after Smart was hired in December of 2015. According to DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell, one of them is at Stanford and another ended up at Miami and neither of us can recall who the other guy was. Doesn’t matter now.
On this much we can all agree: The Bulldogs are very, very fortunate to have Jake Fromm running their offense as they open SEC play. And should anything happen to Fromm against State on Saturday, expect Ramsey to be the next guy in the game, not the one-time starter.
As for Eason, I suspect it’ll still be a few more weeks before he’ll be in position to resume his role. Whether he actually starts again or not will probably depend largely on how these next couple of games go.
But that’s another story for another day.