ATHENS – Since he stepped on Georgia’s campus, the only question about Jacob Eason has been the intangibles: Can he make the big throw when he needs to? Is he a clutch quarterback?
Eason answered with a resounding yes, for the second time in three weeks.
Only this time it was overshadowed by what came next.
This was the lead of the story that would have been written: Jacob Eason, Georgia’s hyped freshman quarterback, had his national coming-out moment Saturday, his perfectly placed 47-yard touchdown pass putting his team ahead with 10 seconds to go.
That was all true, actually. Eason did hit Riley Ridley with an improbable bomb down the right sideline, two weeks after he hit Isaiah McKenzie in the end zone, for what was the game-winning touchdown pass at Missouri.
This time, it was obscured. But Eason did everything he could in the final moments Saturday.
“I’m proud of the kid,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s got to play better and with consistency. But look at what he can do. You know what I mean?”
Eason is prohibited by Smart from speaking to the media, because he’s a freshman. Thus so is Ridley, as well as tight end Isaac Nauta, who caught Eason’s 50-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
But whatever Smart’s worries about freshmen meeting the media, he admitted that Eason has “better composure than me” on the field, at least after the quarterback makes a typical freshman mistake. And there were some: A few overthrows, perhaps holding onto the ball too long sometimes, resulting in three sacks – including a forced fumble that gave Tennessee its first go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“I’m out there ready to lose it on him at times when he’s not managing it right, and he just comes right back,” Smart said. “I think (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach) Jim (Chaney) does a good job managing him because the guy doesn’t think about what he did last. He moves on to the next thing. He’s just got to play with a little more consistency. He’s got two or three reads a game where he just gets off kilter, starts looking at the rush.
“And hey, he’s a freshman, but we can’t accept it. He’s not a freshman anymore, he’s almost a sophomore. Five games into it, he’s got to grow up, keep getting better.”
It’s almost hard to imagine now there was a question over who would be Georgia’s starter, and that senior Greyson Lambert started the opener. Lambert actually played pretty well while in there, but Eason’s arm talent was obvious, and now he’s catching up with the intangibles.
Like clutch throws.
“I knew Jacob was going to make that throw,” tailback Sony Michel said. “He’s a good quarterback. That’s why he’s out there on the field for us.”
“Give (Eason) a lot of praise. He made a play,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
Smart pointed out that the would-be game-winning pass to Ridley happened because of Eason’s arm: If it’s just a little shorter or has less zip on it, Tennessee’s safety would have time to get there for the throw. Instead Ridley caught it in stride into the end zone.
“The kid’s got is composure. He’s got arm talent, too,” Smart said. “It’s a situation where he can continues to grow and get better, make good decisions, we’ve got to get some help around him, and get some help out there for him. He’s grown up a bunch. I’m proud of the way he’s competed, he’s just got to continue to grow.”