Even though Georgia didn’t quite finish the regular season the way many thought they might, as far as individual performances go, did Jacob Eason have one of the best true freshman seasons for a Georgia quarterback in school history?
If you go all the way back to 1972 when the NCAA first allowed freshmen to start playing varsity collegiate football, the University of Georgia has had four true freshmen start at quarterback over the last 44 years including Jacob Eason. The other signal callers to hold that distinction are Eric Zeier in 1991, Quincy Carter in 1998, and Matthew Stafford in 2006. And I would be amiss if I did not mention John Rauch as he was the first true freshman to start at quarterback for UGA all the way back in 1945 when the NCAA made an exception to the prohibition of freshmen playing on varsity squads due to World War II.
While it certainly could be argued that “Johnny” Rauch may have been one of the best quarterbacks to start as a true freshman for the Bulldogs, helping Georgia win 36 games in 45 starts, 2 Southeastern Conference Championships, and going to four straight bowl games, his was a different era of college football which took place in a time almost 20 years before the sport would see a QB pass for over 2,000 yards in a season. I do think Rauch was the best of his era, though, but it is why I want to limit the discussion to 1972 and forward, which leaves Zeier, Carter, Stafford.
How then does Eason stack up against Zeier, Carter, and Stafford?
When you look at the numbers, they speak for themselves. Eason finished with 192 completions out of 349 pass attempts for a 55.0% completion percentage, throwing for 2,266 yards and 14 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions in 12 games, starting 11. He was 6-5 as a starter.
Compare that to Eric Zeier’s true freshman campaign in ’91, and I added in the Independence Bowl game against Arkansas, Zeier played in 12 games, starting seven of those (including the bowl game), and completed 177 of 314 pass attempts for a completion percentage of 56.4%, throwing for 2,212 yards and 9 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. Zeier was 5-2 as a starter.
Quincy Carter came to the University of Georgia in 1998 as a 21-year-old true freshman. He originally had signed his Letter of Intent with Georgia’s instate rival, Georgia Tech, coming out of Southwest Dekalb High School, but after being drafted by the Chicago Cubs organization, he decided to play professional baseball for two years from 1996 through 1997. While Zeier did play and eventually became the starter for the Dawgs during the 1991 season, Carter became the first true freshman since “Johnny” Rauch to start the season in the opening game.
For his 1998 season in 11 regular season games plus the Chick-Fil-A bowl game against Virginia, Carter would complete 194 of 323 passes for a completion percentage of 60.0%, throwing for 2,706 yards and 15 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. QC could also hurt opponents with his legs as he rushed 99 times for 284 yards and 4 touchdowns. Carter was 9-3 as a starter.
The Georgia quarterback that most fans and media have compared Jacob Eason to is Matthew Stafford, who came to UGA also as an early enrollee true freshman from Highland Park High School out of Texas. Stafford also like Eason was a very highly touted pro-style QB coming out of high school, carrying a 5-star ranking from 247Sports.com, ESPN, Rivals, and Scout. And how did the cannon armed number 7 do in his freshman debut in ’06? He completed 126 of 235 pass attempts for a completion percentage of 53.6%, throwing for 1,620 yards and 6 touchdowns to 12 interceptions in 12 games, starting 5 of those. As a starter, Stafford was 3-2. I didn’t include his bowl game against VT; so, we would have an even 12 game comparison.
Quincy Carter had the best completion percentage out of the four with 60.0%, but he also threw up 12 picks. Carter threw an interception every 29.92 passes. Even though Zeier did not have as high of a completion percentage with 56.4%, he did a better job of not turning the ball over only throwing a pick every 78.5 pass attempts. Stafford was the most erratic with the ball completing 53.6% of his attempts and throwing an interception every 19.58 passes. While Eason didn’t have as high a completion percentage as Zeier or Carter, he took care of the football only throwing an interception for every 43.63 pass attempts.
If you are wondering just how good Eason’s pass attempts to interception ratio is it is slightly better than Aaron Murray’s career number where he threw a pick every 36.05 passes. As a redshirt freshman, Murray threw an interception every 42.75 pass attempts. David Greene threw an interception every 36 passes as a redshirt freshman, and for his career, Greene through a pick every 45 pass attempts. And Alabama’s Jalen Hurts threw a pick every 35.22 passes as a true freshman this season for the Tide.
I am not ignoring the passing yards. Yes. Carter threw for the most yards of the four freshmen with 2,706, but in my opinion, the most important job of a true freshman quarterback is to protect that ball, something both Quincy Carter and Matthew Stafford struggled with as true freshmen. Which brings me to the touchdowns. While Carter threw for one more touchdown than Eason, he did so at the cost of throwing 4 more interceptions.
And while it is true that both Quincy Carter and Eric Zeier had a better winning percentage as starters as true freshmen, wins and losses are team stats in my opinion. The quarterbacks don’t play defense or kick field goals, which greatly affects the outcome of a game.
The Eye Test
I watched Zeier as a student, Carter as a graduate, Stafford as a fan in the stands, and then this season, Eason. If we didn’t have the stats to go by, my eyes tell me that Eason has to be considered to be one of the best to start as a true freshman. While I know he struggled with the long ball at times; so, did Stafford, and people may point out that he also struggled at times with accuracy, I would argue that if you take out the drops from the wide receivers, his numbers would be noticeably better. Then there is leadership and command of the huddle. While Eason is not yet at the level of Aaron Murray as a field general, as a freshman, I watched him progressively grow throughout the season and become a competent field captain, especially when he led that fourth quarter drive against Missouri and again versus Kentucky, both on the road. Plus, there was his performance in the Auburn game which rivaled Zeier’s and Stafford’s.
Eason still has one more game to play for the 2016 season before he will close out his true freshman campaign and then look towards 2017 and his sophomore season. He will have some competition from class of 2017 commit, Jake Fromm, as the Houston County High School star looks to be an early enrollee at the University of Georgia in January, just in time to compete during spring camp, but I believe that Georgia is in good hands over the next several years with Jacob Eason at the helm.