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Welcome to the SEC, Jacob Eason

Jacob Eason struggled against South Carolina on Sunday. Nevertheless, though the Bulldogs won the game. Win or lose, Eason better get used to pressure.

[Full disclosure: I’m a political writer by trade and this is my first foray into sports commentary. The hope, as I go along, is to become a pro at digging into stats and knowing the tendencies — good and bad — of every player in every position on the Georgia Bulldogs football team. For now, though, I hope I don’t bore readers with observations from a novice who understands the game as an observer, who watched her four brothers play growing up — 2 at the collegiate level — and as a lifelong fan of the DAWGS. Bear with me…]

The thing about playing in the Southeastern Conference is that even when you have a horrendous game, you might still win because football in the SEC means almost everyone on the field is really good, on both sides of the ball. Even on a Sunday after a hurricane. I know this because: a) I grew up in Georgia and was told that from birth. Literally, from birth. And if you’re smart and don’t want to get excommunicated from the church of football, you don’t question its precepts. And b) I watched the Georgia versus South Carolina game, postponed as it was to Sunday, at a BBQ place in my neighborhood that was playing all the NFL games at the same time, and the action on screen between the two teams battling for merely a decent year rivaled what I saw of the pros like, say, the Ravens/Redskins (but maybe not the Falcons/Broncos. Rise up!). The SEC really is just that good.

New Kid On The Block

So if you’re a true freshman quarterback, recruited by one coach who left before you arrived, and are having to turn on a dime to accommodate the new coaching style of a man who never recruited you and is maybe a slightly harder guy to play for (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), you may have a bad game. Fortunately for you, you chose the SEC, so you still could win.

So it was with Georgia’s rookie quarterback, Jacob Eason, who had a really terrible passing game — throwing for only 29 yards — but came out on top with a 28-14 win, because UGA’s running game remains simply tremendous. The rushing stats are impressive: Sony Michel gained 133 yards on 21 carries, while Nick Chubb carried 16 times for a gain of 121 yards. Third-stringer Brian Herrien even had 82 yards under his belt by the end of the game.

Run HMC?

And it is something to watch UGA run the ball. Which is why the coaching staff reverted quickly back to the running game every time Eason underthrew or overthrew a ball, which he did frequently. It got to be painful, and head coach Kirby Smart very nearly pitched a fit after one particularly strange toss to the sidelines (something former ace Bulldog QB Aaron Murray did very well. He knew when the pressure was on and when he needed to throw it away. Eason looks to be trying to learn that skill.)

I feel for Eason, because there’s no doubt the kid can throw. He wasn’t desired by every top team in the nation for nothing. But he has a new skipper, and that skipper doesn’t look to be going easy on him. Not at all. Even publicly in post-game pressers. But it’s important to remember: Smart played for Georgia and trained as a coach under Nick Saban (and, as my dad reminded me, Smart’s father was a football coach up in Rabun County, Georgia where my father played High School ball. And mountain people don’t sugarcoat. You play well or you sit. Period.)

Smart seemed to have calmed down a bit after the game saying, “I think [Eason’s] a little confused, a little rattled. We’ve got to continue to run the ball to get him some easy passes.” And it’s not hard to see that on the passing play — which requires better coverage than the running play because of how much longer the QB has to take to find a receiver — UGA has a serious liability in the offensive line. There’s also the problem of having receivers that can catch. Even when he manages to get one right on the money, UGA’s receivers are having trouble catching the ball, causing Eason to adjust to accommodate, hence the over- and under- throws.

Under Pressure

But all those things working against him don’t matter because Jacob Eason is now playing in the SEC, where everyone’s expectations are you adjust and you play great football because it’s the best college conference and it’s just what we do. So he can count on continuing to feel the pressure from his head coach.

He’ll either rise to the occasion or he won’t. But Georgia will continue to win, even if there are bumps along the road. Kirby Smart won’t allow for anything else. Eason can count on that, too.

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