Georgia freshman QB Jacob Eason still a work in progress
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Jacob Eason has shown flashes of his enormous potential.
Then there are times when he looks very much like a freshman quarterback.
Like this past Sunday, when he threw for only 29 yards in Georgia's victory over South Carolina, the fewest passing yards by the Bulldogs since 1990.
Coach Kirby Smart shrugged off Eason's up-and-down play, saying that's to be expected when you're starting a guy right out of high school.
''He's had his wow moments and he's had his bad moments,'' Smart said Tuesday. ''You know that you're going to inherently go through some of those. You've got to encourage, you've got to teach, you've got to improve him as a player so there's progress there.''
The Bulldogs (4-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) are definitely counting on Eason to show improvement, beginning with Saturday's game against Vanderbilt. But they also realize it's not always going to be a steady progression.
There are going to be some bumps along the way, and Eason could be challenged again by a Commodores defense that it tied for fourth in the SEC in passing yards allowed (215.3 per game).
Smart never considered benching his quarterback in the 28-14 victory over the Gamecocks, even though he completed just 5 of 17 passes, with one touchdown and one interception.
The way the Bulldogs were running the ball - they piled up 326 yards behind Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and Brian Herrien - allowed them to largely control the tempo of the game, which never felt as close as the score might have indicated.
''I don't think that decision is based on statistics,'' Smart said. ''It's based on your ability to execute and perform within the offense. Sometimes outside circumstances affect statistics, whether it's dropped balls, whether it's poor breakdowns in protection, whether it's tipped balls. There's a lot of things that affect that.''
While Smart said every starting position is up for grabs on a weekly basis, he seems intent on going with Eason through thick and thin. That means fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert, who started all but one game a season ago as well as this year's opening victory over North Carolina, is likely to remain on the bench for the rest of his college career.
Eason's poor performance was not entirely his fault. The game, which was delayed a day by Hurricane Matthew, was played in a strong breeze that appeared to affect some of his throws. There were also several drops, which has been a problem at times for Georgia's receiving corps.
But Smart said there are plenty of areas where Eason can improve.
''He's got to do better with his play-action fakes. He's got to be more detailed with his drops. He's got to be more exact in reading coverage. He's got to be able to communicate a little better,'' the coach said. ''All of those things have been a work in progress since he got here. It's not like you're saying `Oh, this is what he's not good at.' This is what he's got to improve on.''
Smart credited Lambert with doing his part to help Eason learn the nuances of the college game.
''He meets extra with Jacob each week to go through coverages he sees and helps him learn how to study film, which is really important for a freshman,'' Smart said. ''You've got to understand, these kids didn't study high school film like they have to study in college.''
Eason's teammates haven't lost confidence in their young quarterback.
After all, he did come through with a 20-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to beat Missouri in the closing minutes, not to mention that 47-yard touchdown pass with just 10 seconds remaining against Tennessee, which would have pulled out another victory if not for the Volunteers completing a Hail Mary scoring pass on the final play.
''It's a learning curve,'' Michel said. ''You've got to know what it feels like to not succeed before you succeed.''
Notes: Defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter is expected to play for the first time this season against Vanderbilt. After two alcohol-related arrested during the offseason, Ledbetter served a six-game suspension. ''He's handled everything we've asked him to do very well,'' Smart said. ''We'll work him into the rotation. How much he'll play will depend on how he practices this week.''
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