Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jacob Eason: Not the QB of UGA’s dreams, but a Darn Good Dog

Some Georgia fans called this shot around 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2. From the moment Jacob Eason was injured against Appalachian State and Jake Fromm took over and did not stink, there seemed no reason for Eason to stick around. He just announced, via Twitter, that he’s leaving. 

It’s believed he’s bound for Washington, him being from there and all, and there’s a very good chance he’ll fare well. Some prodigal Bulldogs do. Zack Mettenberger did nicely at LSU. Nick Marshall led Auburn to the BCS title game. And there’s certainly no stigma regarding transfer quarterbacks: Two of the past eight Heisman Trophy winners were transfers; two of the past eight championship-winning quarterbacks were transfers. 

What’s fascinating about Eason isn’t that he wants to go somewhere where he can start: All big-time quarterbacks do. It’s that he became a non-starter at Georgia, through no fault of his, and was all but forgotten once he recovered. This isn’t to say that the Bulldogs were wrong for sticking with Fromm. That they just played for the national title and didn’t trail until the final play of overtime is absolute vindication of Kirby Smart’s choice. But it wasn’t so long ago – two years, to be exact – that many Bulldogs fans believed the fate of the program hinged on whether the self-proclaimed Skinny Quarterback would honor his commitment to Mark Richt. 

As the 2015 season wound down, Eason’s impending arrival was Richt’s biggest argument for getting another year. This was the quarterback Georgia had lacked since Aaron Murray left. In 2015, the Bulldogs were reduced to going with Greyson Lambert, who lost his starting job at Virginia, and, for one never-to-be-forgotten day in Jacksonville, the forlorn Fauton Bauta.

Eason was the guy Georgia had to have. Georgia got him. Richt did not. He was gone more than two months before signing day. But Eason honored his commitment and had a not-bad freshman season.

He didn’t start the season as the No. 1 quarterback – once again, Lambert did – but he helped the Bulldogs overhaul North Carolina in the Georgia Dome, and the job was essentially his. He threw the pass that beat Missouri in Columbia. His throw to Riley Ridley should have beaten Tennessee. But such was the Eason hype that anything less than being Peyton Manning would have disappointed some, and he wasn’t Peyton Manning. 

To have a big arm, Eason didn’t complete very many passes – 55.1 percent in an era where 60 percent is considered a baseline. His footwork wasn’t textbook. He took a lot of sacks (21 in 13 games), although Georgia’s O-line was culpable for much of that. To see him make the deep throw to Ridley against the Volunteers was to think, “So that’s why he was a big deal.” The Bulldogs’ next game was against South Carolina. He completed 5 of 17 passes for 29 yards. 

As he leaves, the best memory Georgia fans will have of Eason is how he handled his benching. He did not grouse. He did not do anything to disrupt the Bulldogs’ shining season. At news conferences before the Rose Bowl and the national championship game, Smart took pains to laud Eason for being a standup guy, which isn’t easy when you’ve been relegated, figuratively speaking, to sitting. 

If there was any doubt as to whether Eason would have been better served sticking around, Justin Fields’ signing made it clear. Georgia chose Fromm as its pocket passer, and no other pocket passer was apt to get time; Fields, however, is a dual-threat guy and therefore a change-of-pace option. It will be fascinating to see if a team that came within an eyelash of winning it all with a freshman will dare to play two quarterbacks next season; there was no chance of it playing three. (Even Ohio State couldn’t get away with that, Braxton Miller having to shift to receiver.) 

Two years ago, Georgia fans would have wept bitter tears had Eason decided not to come to Athens. News that he’s leaving surely leaves Bulldog Nation feeling glad, and not in the “Good riddance” sense. Glad in the sense that this is clearly the best decision for all involved. If Jacob Eason wasn’t quite the quarterback he’d been cracked up to be, he nonetheless proved to be a Darn Good Dog.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.