ATHENS — As has been widely reported at this point, it appears Jacob Eason will get the first start of his young career Saturday against Nicholls State. And when you think about, Georgia’s coaches really didn’t have much of a choice when it came right down to it.
I don’t think it was necessarily Eason’s play in the first game versus that of fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert that dictated this move. And I don’t really think it was what the coaches were seeing in practice, beyond, that is, the fact that the competition apparently remained very close.
No, this may very well have been dictated by the Bulldogs’ schedule.
Think about it: After this Saturday’s de facto practice game against Nicholls State, a struggling FCS team, Georgia is heading into a real gauntlet of games.
There are people out there who will scoff about the Bulldogs’ challenge of having to make the trip out to Columbia, Mo., to face a Missouri team that just lost to West Virginia 26-11. But say what you will about the Tigers, they always play salty defense, have a really talented front seven this year in particular and will be playing their SEC opener at home at night on national television.
As long as I’ve been around this game, I’ve never met a coach who thought the best place to give a quarterback his first start — never mind a true freshman — was in a conference road game at night.
After that, Georgia is on the road against a Top 25 Ole Miss team, back home against a Tennessee team that was picked to win the division, then back on the road to face rival South Carolina.
No, if you were thinking Eason was going to start eventually, then circumstances pretty much dictated that you do it now. You’d much rather have him walk into his own stadium with the game plan in his back pocket and ask him to go out and execute it against an over-matched FCS opponent.
Meanwhile, if you were going to go with Lambert again, as Smart hinted earlier this week they might, one would have expected Georgia to announce it ahead of time. As insulated as coaches are this time of year, they do know what is the sentiment of the fan base. And while they’re never going to do something because fans want it, could you imagine keeping the starter a secret this week and then Lambert trotting out onto the field at Sanford Stadium first on Saturday? Even money says there would’ve been at least a few boos from the home crowd, and that wouldn’t be a good look for anybody involved.
Whatever the rationale, Smart made it clear from his comments throughout the week that it wasn’t based on what happened in the opener this past Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Eason came out of that game with the better stats — 8-of-12 passing for 131 yards and a touchdown to 5-0f-8 for 54 yards — but they also played under different circumstances.
“Again, it’s a situation for us where we feel like both young men did a good job; they were in two different situations,” Smart said. “One guy was in the game when we were behind more than the other. And they both had their strong points, and those strong points are different. So we’ll continue to develop both guys.”
Odds are Eason will look great against the Colonels, who are fairly hapless when it comes to these types of contests. Over the last four years, Nicholls has played Colorado (2015), Arkansas (2014), Oregon (2013) and Oregon State (2012) and lost them all by a combined score of 264-13.
But both quarterbacks will play Saturday. Therefore, there remains a possibility of a different scenario. If Smart is to be believed, there’s at least a chance that Lambert could perform better in this game and in practice this coming week and still end as the starter for critical stretch.
More than likely, however, we’re witnessing the changing of the guard, and the Eason Era has begun one game after Smart’s began.