ATHENS — Jacob Eason was pointed to a spot by a Georgia communications staffer, stood up, nodded hello, and began his first interview session in nine months. If Georgia’s starting quarterback, after a tumultuous but mostly successful freshman season, had quips or thoughts he was itching to get off his chest, it didn’t show.
Instead, Eason was just as calm and businesslike as he showed in leading Georgia to comeback victories this season. And he was willing to be critical of himself for the mistakes that led to losses, so he knows what to work on going forward.
“I feel like having this season under my belt, building on this season, and getting ready for next season, is going to be a big thing for me,” Eason said. “Because the mistakes I made this season I know I’ve made those mistakes, I’ll be ready to focus off them and learn from them and build off them.”
The phrase that Eason seemed to use the most during Monday’s interview session was “build off.” His freshman season still has one game left, the Liberty Bowl against TCU on Dec. 30, but Eason will enter it with pretty decent stats: 14 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 2,266 passing yards and a completion percentage of 55 percent.
But it’s the moments, good and bad, that will stick out from Eason’s freshman campaign.
There were two game-winning drives, including the fourth-down touchdown pass at Missouri. There would have been a third, but Tennessee’s Hail Mary ruined that.
What’s so amazing about that, in retrospect, is Eason wasn’t used to being in games at tense moments back at Lake Stevens (Wash.) High School.
“I didn’t normally play in the second half of games,” Eason said, grinning.
Head coach Kirby Smart marveled that he never seemed affected by the moment. Eason was asked about that.
“That comes a lot from my Dad,” Eason said of his father Tony. “He played at Notre Dame, he had the big stage there, he always said that football when it comes down to it, it’s just a game. I come in with that mindset. It’s just a game. There’s a lot of people watching, but it’s just a game in the end, let’s go out and do your thing, and have fun doing it.”
Of course, the season also saw a few critical mistakes, such as the interception late against Georgia Tech. And Georgia was only 6-5 in Eason’s starts, the offense struggling to a national rank of 97th in passing.
“The SEC’s a huge difference from high school, I think everyone can see that,” Eason said. “But actually playing in it, and seeing the speed of the game, being hit by the linebackers and D-line, that’s a big eye opener for me, and I’m glad it happened.”
Eason described the “little things” he wants to work on between now and the bowl: Footwork, looking at progressions, and reading coverages. The biggest adjustment from high school to the SEC, Eason said, was the “speed of the game,” as in the speed of the defensive backs and linebackers, how quickly everyone is moving.
He appeared much more comfortable in the shotgun than under center, and basically confirmed that.
“Now I’m really comfortable,” Eason said. “Coming into this season it took a lot of work and a lot of reps to get comfortable, because I never did that in high school. So that was a big thing for me, learning a pro-style offense, and getting to where I am now, really comfortable under center.”
Before the season, Eason was probably the most hyped freshman quarterback in the SEC. But he was surpassed by Jalen Hurts at Alabama, and Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley also got notice with late starting runs.
Eason, meanwhile, just kind of plowed ahead — and watched the other freshmen quarterbacks too.
“We’re all buddies,” Eason said. “Jalen Hurts is having a great season, they’re going to play Washington, that’s awesome, I’m excited for him. Shea at Ole Miss is another good friend of mine. We keep in touch, that’s a competition, but it’s a friendly competition. Different teams, we all respect each other’s game, and it’s always cool to keep an eye on what the other guys are doing.”
When preseason began, Eason’s aim was to win the starting job. He did so, beating out last year’s starter Greyson Lambert.
But Eason also praised Lambert for the help he provided this year. Lambert started the opener against North Carolina, then gave way to Eason, who never looked back during a season that had bumps — and those big clutch moments.
“He worked for it. That’s just the kid he is, he’s cool and calm and collected. He doesn’t really feel pressure,” Bulldogs freshman tight end Isaac Nauta said. “That’s the big thing with him, he could care less about what people think, what people say. He just goes out and does what he does, and he tries to get better at it. That’s one of the things that I like about him, I was excited to see some of those last drives where he pulled out a win for us. He’s a special player.”