Throughout spring practice he showed reporters that he had outgrown bad freshman tendencies: holding onto the ball too long and ill-advised throws into double coverage. He developed better touch on his deep balls. But with an expectant crowd estimated at more than 66,000 looking on in Sanford Stadium, Eason’s first half looked like the same kind of player he was last season— an inexperienced freshman.
Eason headed into the halftime locker room a forgettable stat line: 8 of 21 for 133 yards, one interception and two sacks.
Even with numbers like that, Eason still managed to make plays that showed us why he was regarded by so many as the best quarterback of the 2016 class. Most notable was a 47-yard pass to Javon Wims, where Eason hit him perfectly in stride.
But that throw, impressive as it was, wasn’t enough to help him keep up with newcomer Jake Fromm’s first half, who went 7 of 10 for 100 yards and a touchdown. Fromm showed a good ability to get passes out quickly and accurately on short routes. He didn’t test his luck much going deep, but the one time he did, Fromm was able to connect with Jeremiah Holloman on a 42-yard touchdown pass.
But something happened in the locker room at halftime that must have flipped a switch in Eason because in the second half he played like the quarterback that Georgia fans expected him to be. He came out and not only matched Fromm’s ability on quick routes but outperformed him on them, zipping in balls with velocity that Fromm can’t muster.
While Eason’s short and intermediate throws improved vastly, it was his deep ball that was the most noticeable improvement. Eason chalked up two NFL-quality touchdowns through the air in the second half with a 33-yard pass to Jayson Stanley and a 36-yard throw to Charlie Woerner.
Eason’s improvement seemed to have a positive effect on Fromm too, as he showed improvement throwing deep down the field. He had a 70-yard touchdown to Tyler Simmons, although it was more of a lucky catch on Simmons’ part than a good pass on Fromm’s. Still, Fromm had a 38-yard throw to Mecole Hardman that put the Red team in the red zone.
One of Eason’s biggest strengths last year was his poise in the tail ends of games, leading late drives against Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. It’s hard to get that quality in a quarterback, especially in a true freshman. And he showcased that ability again today with his pass to Woerner, tying the game with only 2:31 remaining. But once again, Fromm matched Eason. With just over two minutes to go, Fromm lead a 75-yard drive that included his big throw to Hardman, to put the Red team and Rodrigo Blankenship in chip shot range to recapture the lead with only 1:03 left to play.
Fromm finished the game with 277 yards and two touchdowns on 14 of 23 passing and no interceptions, a cleaner stat line than Eason’s 16 of 36 for 311 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. But that is in no way an indication that Fromm is the better of the two. Fromm has the accuracy and intelligence to be a good quarterback, but he lacks one thing in particular that Eason has, and it isn’t something you can learn— pure physical ability. Even on some of Fromm’s biggest throws, like his one to Stanley in the first half, he struggles to get the ball there, and that’s no different than his throws in practice. But one thing you’ll hardly ever see from Eason is an underthrown ball.
This was supposed to be Eason’s time to prove to the fans that the quarterback competition that Kirby Smart often refers to wasn’t actually much of a competition. Instead, his performance fell short of expectations and gave fans a reason to question his starting job. But even with Fromm’s impressive performance, he simply can’t match Eason’s physicality, giving last season’s starter the clear edge before Georgia’s season opener against Appalachian State on Sept. 2.