Last year there were 93,000 bodies in the stadium for a spring game. There was a buzz about the new coach and the new quarterback. There was a pregame mini-concert by Ludacris, whose appearance came with a price tag of $65,000 and a 42-item rider that included cognac, condoms, fruit rollups and two gardenia-scented candles (because he’s got class).
But things are kind of back to normal in 2017. It’s just a spring game again.
The G-Day game in Kirby Smart’s second season didn’t draw 93,000. It also didn’t draw nearly the official “fake news” estimate of 66,133 disseminated by the school, but if that’s the biggest misdirection of Georgia’s season, it will be a good year.
So the new-car smell of the Smart era is over. But the Bulldogs, with a favorable schedule and a number of returning players who could have turned pro, may be positioned to stir the crazies again.
I know. We’ve been here before. But Jacob Eason likely will provide the swing vote for this being just another deflated Georgia season and something that finally fits into the category of special. Either Eason improves significantly from last season, as most freshman quarterbacks do, or the Dogs can prepare themselves for another third-tier bowl game.
Eason has a year of perspective and several more weeks of film study under his belt. He said he looks back on his 2016 season now with a more critical eye than he did when the year was unfolding.
“Now I’m like, ‘Wow, I could’ve done this differently. I could’ve done that differently,’” he said. “But when I was back in that day, I didn’t know how to do it any differently. So I’ve learned to accept it and grow from it, and hopefully I won’t make those same mistakes twice.”
There were some mistakes Saturday, overthrows and sacks he might have been able to avoid. But after an 8-for-21 first half against the No. 1 defense, Eason went 8-for-15 in the second half. That included touchdown passes to Jayson Stanley (33 yards) and Charlie Woerner (36). He finished with 311 yards passing, but he also had an interception and took three sacks.
Was it a dominating performance? No. But let’s not overanalyze a spring performance. And please don’t push the Jake-Fromm-is-better-wagon down the road.
Fromm looked good, but he also was going against the No. 2 defense. There is no competition for the starting quarterback job. 1. It’s Eason job now. It will be Eason’s job all season, barring injury or some unlikely collapse.
That said, Fromm has made Eason better. Eason said it. Smart confirmed it.
As he walked out of his postgame news conference, Smart said he was “pleased” with Eason’s growth in the spring, adding, “He grew. He got smarter. With Fromm in the room it was more challenging for him. There was a guy there who can answer the question as fast as he can.”
When asked if Fromm’s presence improved Eason’s work habits, Smart said, “He’s always had good habits. But now he’s got a guy who’s like Quick Draw McGraw in the room, answering everything. Jacob has to be fast.”
Eason said Fromm “pushed me in every way — in the film room, on the field. He’s a quick learner. He’s always going to push me, and I’m going to push him.”
As for seeming more on target in the second half of the spring game than the first, Eason said, “I think it was just the flow of the game. I made a play early, and we had the momentum in the second half. That’s something I need to learn. I need to learn how to control things and get the flow of the game to come to me early. I think it was just the shock of people in the stands. Some guys were new to their position. Just those first-game jitters.”
The game moved a little too fast for Eason last season.
“At the beginning of the year things were happening fast. People were kind of flying,” he said.
But the game slowed for him as the year went on, even if the mistakes sometimes continued. Nobody has ever doubted his confidence or his arm, but he struggled at times to read coverages quickly and went through his progressions slowly — which, again, should have been expected as a freshman starting quarterback in the SEC.
Eason’s statistics Saturday are a bit skewed from the standpoint that the defense kind of knew what was coming. Smart made it apparent early that the No. 1 offense was not going to run the ball much. Sony Michel had one carry. Nick Chubb had none. Neither caught a pass. (Chubb dropped one thrown to him.)
“When the defense knows you’re throwing the ball, he’s going to throw for a lesser percentage,” Smart said. “I think Jacob understands our offense better, he knows the checks, he knows to put us in the right play, and that part I’m pleased with.”
It’s spring. No reason to go too deep. There will be plenty of time for dissection in five months.