Jacob Eason made Georgia sweat, but ultimately he didn’t turn back.
The five-star quarterback from Lake Stevens, Wash., recommitted to the Bulldogs on Tuesday after considering backing off his pledge to the program following former head coach Mark Richt’s firing. Eason is the No. 2 quarterback and No. 7 overall recruit in the class of 2016, according to Scout.com.
Eason’s status makes his decision to stay with Georgia an early game-changer in the tenure of new coach Kirby Smart, whom the Bulldogs hired away from Alabama, where he served as defensive coordinator. Eason had strongly considered SEC East rival Florida after reopening his recruitment.
Not only does his renewed pledge to Georgia keep him away from the reigning division champions, it significantly boosts the Bulldogs’ future under center. The Bulldogs didn’t sign a quarterback last year and have struggled to replace Aaron Murray. Last season’s starter, Hutson Mason, avoided costly mistakes but lacked the playmaking ability of Murray. Greyson Lambert transferred into the program from Virginia and won the starting job this year but was benched against Florida before regaining his role. The Bulldogs ranked 10th in the SEC in passing offense this season with just 187 yards per game, a deficiency that proved costly in losses to Alabama and Florida.
In Eason, Georgia appears to have its solution. He is the Bulldogs’ first five-star passer since Murray signed in the 2009 class and ranks even higher among his classes' quarterbacks than Murray. Scout.com touts his arm strength, accuracy and touch along with his field vision. He’s not a speedster but has the wheels to keep defenses honest, and at 6’5.5” and 217 pounds, he has the prototypical build of a quarterback, especially once he adds some muscle to his frame with a college weight-training plan.
Eason’s commitment continues a strong early trend for Smart on the recruiting trail. Four-star safety Richard LeCounte of the class of 2017 committed to Georgia on Sunday, becoming the first recruit to pledge to the Bulldogs under Smart. Now the new coach—who hasn’t even fully switched over to Georgia because of Alabama’s selection to the College Football Playoff—has managed to hang on to one of the biggest prizes of this season’s recruiting cycle.
Eason bought in to Smart’s hire to run Georgia’s offense, former Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. Chaney’s track record speaks to a coach who can adapt his offense to fit his personnel’s strength. Drew Brees won the 2000 Maxwell Award under him in a spread offense at Purdue, while Chaney’s run-heavy pro-style offense at Arkansas produced a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in ’14. In a stark contrast to former Georgia offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who struggled to keep the Bulldogs’ offense moving after star running Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury vs. Tennessee, Chaney helped Pittsburgh go 8–4 this season despite losing tailback James Conner in the season-opener.
Now Chaney can build an offense around Eason and implement it possibly as soon as next fall. Eason will enroll early at Georgia, and given the Bulldogs’ instability at quarterback this season, he should have a chance to compete for playing time right away. Lambert will be back next season, as will sophomore Brice Ramsey, but junior Faton Bauta announced earlier this month that he intends to transfer. Georgia signed four-star Jacob Park in 2014, but he elected to transfer after redshirting last season and falling out of the battle for the starting job this year.
Expect Lambert, Ramsey and Eason to all compete for the role beginning this spring. Miami (Brad Kaaya) and UCLA (Josh Rosen) have proved that true freshman quarterbacks can succeed at big-name programs. A new coaching staff seemingly presents the perfect scenario to take such a shot, especially with a passer with as much potential as Eason.