ATHENS, Ga. — With 10:43 to play in the second quarter of Georgia's G-Day Game on Saturday afternoon, the 93,000 fans at Sanford Stadium on #93KDay got their wish.
Jacob Eason, the 6'5", 211-pound 5-star true freshman early enrollee from Lake Stevens, Washington, trotted on the field to lead his first drive as a Bulldog to the raucous cheers of Bulldog Nation.
Not only did he live up to their lofty expectations, but he was—by far—the best quarterback on the field, and head coach Kirby Smart should name him the starting quarterback prior to fall camp.
Eason hit running back Brendan Douglas for a 13-yard gain out of the backfield and followed it up with a 35-yard strike deep down the sideline to fellow true freshman Riley Ridley. His first series resulted in a missed field goal, but by that time, the story of Eason's first spring game had already been written—he isn't a star-in-the-making, he's a star of the present.
Predictably, Smart is doing his best to temper that enthusiasm.
When told that "people" will say that it's going to be hard not to start Eason, Smart fired back.
"Really? Why would people say that?" he joked. "To me, he ended up around 60 percent, Brice (Ramsey) was around 60 percent and Greyson (Lambert) had two drops. For people to say that, maybe they should go to Coaching 101."
Consider that coachspeak, because Smart made it clear that he's aware of Eason's upside.
"He throws BBs," he said in the postgame press conference. "Sometimes he throws them to the other team and sometimes he throws them to our team, but he throws BBs, now. He can spin the ball. He can spin the ball. I didn't hide anything from y'all when I said that he has an elite arm. He's got great arm strength and arm talent. He makes good decisions most of the time."
Smart needs to use the grace period that first-year head coaches receive, name Eason the starter now, let him learn with the first-team all offseason and trot him out as the starting quarterback against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Young players need to navigate through the ups and downs of college football in order to become superstars.
The rest of Eason's afternoon included a seven-yard touchdown pass to fellow true freshman Isaac Nauta, a perfect 37-yard pass early in the fourth quarter to Reggie Davis down the sideline and a performance that matched the seemingly insurmountable hype. He finished the spring game 19-of 29 for 244 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions and shoulders that are even more loaded down with offseason hype.
|Georgia QB Spring Game Stats|
|Georgia Sports Communications|
Lambert was the first quarterback out for Georgia on Saturday, but it was clear from the play-calling that the coaches don't trust him to be anything more than a game manager. The shots called deep for the senior returning starter were few and far between, and one of those "few" was intercepted and returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Aaron Davis.
Lambert led Georgia to a 10-2 record as a starter last year but only threw for 1,959 yards and hardly scared opposing defenses.
Ramsey stretched the field well at times too, but he struggled with his decision-making in the pocket, misfired on some short passes and tried to force the ball to covered receivers often—with some success.
If Lambert can't stretch the field and the concern around Ramsey is consistency, Eason's "youth" shouldn't prevent him from being the Bulldogs quarterback. After all, youth creates inconsistency, and at the very worst, he's equal to two veterans after just 15 practices as a college freshman.
Eason will be a superstar.
The defense loosened up during all of his drives on Saturday afternoon between the hedges, which is a telltale sign that the Bulldogs know what the kid nicknamed "Skinny QB" is capable of.
"His spring was very good," said defensive back Dominick Sanders. "He still has a lot to do and a lot of room to grow, but overall he did pretty well."
What's the downside to trotting Eason out there for Game 1 against the Tar Heels? A loss?
Ramsey's inconsistency and Lambert's inability to stretch the field aren't going to lead Georgia to the national title this year anyway, and the moment either loses a game as a starter, the pressure put on Smart to play Eason will be as big as the crowd at Sanford Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
So do it now.
I'm generally not a fan of naming starting quarterbacks during or immediately after spring practice unless it's obvious who the winner is.
It's obvious Eason is not only the future for Georgia but the present. So give him time to grow with the first-team offense rather than the twos and threes.
Smart knows Eason is the future. If he doesn't name him the starter prior to fall camp, he's just delaying the inevitable.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.