OXFORD, Miss. — For the first time all season, Jacob Eason played like a freshman.
The 6-foot-6 rookie from Lake Stevens, Wash., had his worst day as a Georgia Bulldog on Saturday. He completed just 16 of his 36 passes (44.4 percent) for 137 yards, threw an interception that was returned 52 yards for a touchdown and was sacked three times. Eason also lost one fumble.
It wasn’t all his fault. Eason was the victim of about a half-dozen drops and encountered the most defensive pressure of his young career. But he also struggled in the areas of operation and poise, according to his head coach.
“(The drops) impacted things, but, you know, he didn’t run the offense efficiently,” Smart said following the 45-14 defeat. “I stayed on him during the week because he had the success, the play, last week. I didn’t want that to affect him. I don’t know whether it did or not. I thought the kid was focused. He’s a freshman, guys, he’s got to get better. He’s got to command the huddle and communicate better. I said that over and over.”
Eason was 29-of-55 for 308 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win over Missouri. He also threw the game-winning, 20-yard touchdown on fourth-and-10 with 1:29 to play. He now has 780 yards passing this season.
Eason’s biggest mistake occurred on Georgia’s second possession of the game. On third-and-10 at Georgia’s 37, Eason forced a throw into double coverage over the middle of the field for Terry Godwin. His pass was picked off by defensive back Derrick Jones, who returned it 52 yards for a touchdown.
“He saw the wrong coverage, and he threw the ball to the wrong guy,” Smart said. “Hey, you can throw it to the wrong guy. He’s gotten away with that some. But he threw it behind the wrong guy, which is lethal. But he didn’t see the coverage right. He knew it. He came off the field and admitted it. He should have thrown the ball to the other side. But at the end of the day we’ve got to overcome it.”
Eason’s final statistics would have looked a lot better had his receiving corps come through for him. Eason was perfectly on target on what should have been a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jayson Stanley on the first play after a fake punt early in the second quarter. The ball went right through Stanley’s hands.
Isaiah McKenzie dropped what could have been a third-down conversion and couldn’t hang on to the ball on what would have been a highlight-reel TD catch later in the game.
“We had a lot of drops, especially me,” said McKenzie, who was coming off a 10-catch performance against Missouri. “We’ve got to come up with those big plays on third down. We’ve got to convert. We’ve just got to play better during the week, catch the ball better, focus on the ball, focus on our jobs.”
Eason was under pressure a lot. He was sacked three times and hit several more times. But a lack of mobility and recognition contributed to two of them. And Smart continues to question Eason’s pre-snap reads and adjustments.
But getting hit and getting up is part of the learning process. Smart was convinced Eason will play better going forward as a result of Saturday’s experience.
“I think he grew up some today,” Smart said. “He took some shots today. It’s the first time he’s really been hit. He got rocked a couple times today, and that’s what happens in the SEC. But he still fought, he still made some throws. He’s still throwing off his back foot, and he’s still got to fix some things. In football you’re going to have guys that line up wrong. You’ve got to fix that.
“It’s progress. But we need more progress, and we need it faster. But the kid took some shots today. He’s a fighter and a competitor. We’ve just got to get him better, and we’ve got to help him, too.”
Said McKenzie: “Jacob kept his composure. He did what he could. We did what we could to help him out, but Jacob handled this well. He’s going to get better for it, even though it was a loss. He took it bad, but he’s going to prepare better during the week.”