Jacob Eason’s sophomore year: What the history of Georgia quarterbacks says to expect

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Georgia QB Jacob Eason started all but one of the team's games in 2016.

ATHENS — The way the world remembers David Greene now, it was peaches and roses from the moment he became Georgia’s starting quarterback. A winner and a smoother operator from the start of his four-year run at the helm.

But that’s not quite the way Greene remembers his redshirt freshman year.

“I kind of got hit with the double whammy: It was the [first] year for Coach [Mark] Richt but it was also my first year as a starting quarterback,” Greene said. “By the end of my redshirt freshman year I was exhausted.”

Greene had guided Georgia to an eight-win season, with eight more touchdowns than interceptions, but began Year 2 as the starter with a much-hyped freshman (D.J. Shockley) competing for the job … all exactly the case for Jacob Eason.

One of the major questions for Georgia’s season is how much, if any, of an improvement Eason makes in his second year. He took over the second game of last season, after playing some snaps in the opener, and had an overall solid season, especially for a freshman. But he only went 7-5 as the starter, and entering this season the question is whether the things he did wrong last year were red flags for the future, or merely freshman kinks that will be worked out.

“I learned a lot of things. I did some things wrong, I did some things right,” Eason said this week. “You kind of learn from your past experiences, and going into this next season having those experiences, I feel like I’ll be making more of the right decisions than the wrong decisions.”

Eason was the fifth freshman (redshirt or true) since 1991 to start the majority of Georgia’s games. The others all went on to start at least the next three seasons: Eric Zeier (1991-94), Quincy Carter (1998-2000), Greene (2001-04), Matt Stafford (2006-08), and Aaron Murray (2010-13).

The only one of those who didn’t really improve markedly was Carter — who went from SEC freshman of the year to an injury-marred junior season in which he had more interceptions than touchdowns.

Carter did, however, see a statistical improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. The only stat that went backward was wins: The record went from 9-3 to 8-4, but Carter’s sophomore-year team was much younger.

Truth be told, an examination of the other freshman-to-sophomore years of Georgia starting quarterbacks doesn’t feature many eye-popping improvements, except for one category: wins.

Murray’s pass efficiency rating actually went down from his freshman to sophomore year. But his other stats remained strong and the Georgia went from 6-7 to 10-4.

Stafford and Zeier were slightly more than part-time starters as freshmen, then started their sophomore years. Stafford guided Georgia to a two-win improvement, and Zeier to a one-win improvement.

Greene’s numbers were fairly similar as a freshman and sophomore. But the team went from 8-4 to 13-1 and SEC and Sugar Bowl champions.

Like Eason, Greene’s first year as the starter coincided with a new coach. There was a culture adjustment for the whole team, including Greene.

“They coached us and I think we practiced probably harder that first year than we ever did,” Greene said. “Probably a little bit harder than we should’ve. I think everybody was gassed by the end of the year, that first year. Our legs were toast. That first year was a complete grind.

“At least going into the second year you kind of knew what to expect, and our bodies were able to get prepared for it a little bit more. But Year 1 was a challenge. It wasn’t so bad in September and October, but it got to November and I was hitting the wall a little bit. Because I hadn’t done it before, and my body hadn’t been through it as well.”

Eason may have dealt with some of that last year. So maybe there’s also natural improvement this year as he knows what to expect. But most of the talk this preseason has been about improving as a leader, and his knowledge of the offense.

David Greene started every game as a redshirt freshman in 2001, but he called that season “a grind.” (David Tulis/AJC)

Senior tight end Jeb Blazevich said he noticed Eason just in general being a “better, well-rounded quarterback.” Including the leadership part.

“He’s definitely out there yelling, getting guys in position. ‘We’ve gotta go, we’ve gotta go at this tempo.’ I think that’s been the greatest thing, seeing him develop as a leader and being able to follow him.”

Coach Kirby Smart has emphasized Eason’s completion percentage — 55.1 percent last year — as the area needing the most improvement. That percentage was indeed six percentage points lower than Murray as a freshman (61.1) and four points lower than Greene as a freshman (59.3). But it was actually better than Stafford (52.7).

Either way, Eason is well aware of it needing to improve.

“There’s a lot of things that go into it,” Eason said. “Just from looking at the rush, to seeing what I’m not supposed to see, having my eyes in the wrong spot. There’s a lot of things. That all results in being late on the throw, or being off-balance, or that kind of thing.”

After starting as a freshman, Greene went on to be the winningest quarterback in school history. Zeier went on to break Georgia passing records. Murray went on to break those. Stafford went on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Now here comes Eason, whose legacy appears at least two years away from being written.

“I’ve still got some things to do, and a long ways to go,” Eason said. “But I’m comfortable with where I’m at right now.”

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