They want immediate success from a new coach, and they want to see new recruits quickly put up veteran-like numbers. But is it really fair to expect an 18-year-old kid to carry a team? Before you begin to list what UGA quarterback Jacob Eason can do better in this already disappointing season, consider instead what he’s managed to accomplish compared to others who took on the daunting task of leading a big-time football program as a true freshman.
First, Eason joins a select few players to ever start for the Bulldogs as a true freshman. He’s only the fifth quarterback to achieve this since 1945. Those other four aren’t nobodies either: John Rauch, Matthew Stafford, Eric Zeier and Quincy Carter are the others who led the Dawgs straight from high school. It should be pointed out that Carter was a minor league baseball player, so he wasn’t a “true” true freshman in purest since of the word.
Not only has Eason joined this elite company, he has also produced numbers similar to, and even better than these past Georgia greats. Through nine games, Eason has posted 1,754 passing yards and an 11-5 touchdown to interception ratio. If you look at Stafford's first year, he was able to build a solid 6-2 record at the helm, but his inexperience led to poor decisions, as evidenced by his throwing 13 picks to only 7 touchdowns. Compared to Stafford’s freshman year, Eason is worlds ahead in terms of poise and decision making. And he’s not only doing well compared to Stafford, but Zeier and Carter as well. Through 11 games, Zeier put up 1,984 yards with only seven touchdowns and four interceptions. In the same amount of time, Carter recorded an impressive 2,484 yards, but threw 12 touchdowns to nine interceptions.
While Eason’s stats are not eye-popping compared to the likes breakout stars Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. Then again, he’s keeping up despite having a weaker supporting cast.
There are two true freshman starting as QBs at schools in the Power Five conferences: Texas’ Shane Buechele and Alabama’s Jalen Hurts. Statistically, Eason has performed below both of them. Buechele has put up a whopping 2,257 passing yards to pair with his 19-6 touchdown-interception ratio. But similar to Eason, Buechele’s numbers have not correlated with consistent results for the Longhorns, who are now 5-4. Hurts, on the other hand, has led Alabama to a perfect 9-0 record. He’s put up similar passing numbers to Eason, throwing for 1,656 yards and 11 touchdowns, while only being picked off six times. But it isn’t through the air where you see Hurts’ best contributions; it’s on the ground. He’s accumulated 635 yards and 10 touchdowns with his legs, 543 more yards than both Buechele and Eason combined on the ground.
Hurts and Buechele have another big advantage over Eason — a consistent run game to help them. Both Texas and Alabama are in the top 20 in total rushing yards and rushing yards per game, categories where Georgia ranks 61 and 60, respectively. That hurts Eason and the Dawgs because they can’t use play-action passes as effectively, which keeps UGA from spreading out defenses as well as the Longhorns and Crimson Tide are able to do.
While he may not be performing as well as his contemporary competition, Eason is outperforming other big name true freshman QBs like, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Rick Leach, who took the reigns of their programs in their first seasons.
Leach, a former Michigan quarterback, is a prime example that showcases Eason’s advanced decision making for his age. Before embarking on his nine-year MLB career, Leach was a four-year starter for the Wolverines. In his inaugural season though, Leach was, to put it nicely, unsatisfactory through the air. He threw for only 680 yards and managed just a meager 32% completion rate. He also had an abysmal 3-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Marino didn’t look much more promising in his first year at Pittsburgh either. The future NFL MVP threw for a ho-hum 1,680 yards with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Statistically, Eason’s is similar to Manning’s first season at Tennessee. Manning played in 11 games, accumulating 1,141 yards including 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Not to say that Eason is the next Manning, but both showcased an ability to read defenses and make good decisions at a young age.
If these numbers don’t show you that Eason has the potential to be a superstar, then listen to Florida head coach Jim McElwain, as he thinks that Eason could really become a marquee player.
"This guy, in my opinion, is the future of the SEC," McElwain said in his press conference after The World’s Biggest Cocktail Party. “I mean, he’s that good. And his ability to push the ball downfield is something that is very impressive."
Eason’s numbers this season might not jump off the charts to anyone who sees them, but those numbers don’t tell a complete story. When you compare him to star quarterbacks who were once in similar shoes you see just how much potential Eason actually has. Eason’s arm talent is already there. He’s learning the hard way how to be poised in the pocket. Those things combined will help the Lake Stevens, Wash. native continue to grow as a quarterback. More importantly, it will help him lead the Bulldog program to greater heights.