Jacob Eason arrived Saturday night.
He delivered a signature pass that declared his status as Georgia’s quarterback of the future — and the present.
Should his career in Athens rise along the same arc as that game-winning pass in Georgia’s 28-27 win at Missouri, the moment will live forever as a special moment of Bulldog glory.
Eason’s pass, 20 yards to Isaiah McKenzie, came with 1 minutes 31 seconds to play and Georgia trailing, 27-21. That it was delivered on fourth down, after Eason had thrown three straight incompletions, compounded its magnitude.
The pass itself, a thing of beauty to the Bulldog faithful, was delivered perfectly, hitting McKenzie in the only spot where he could make the catch with relative ease.
It also came against Aarion Penton, Mizzou’s premier defensive back.
“On the last play, I was playing man without help,” Penton told the Columbia Tribune, “And he made a good throw, good catch, everything. I just wish I could’ve fought a little bit harder to get the ball.”
Penton had good coverage on first and second down, thwarting passes to McKenzie. A third-down pass to Isaac Nauta was broken up by safety Cam Hilton.
That set up the grand finale. A true freshman, with the game on the line, stood in the pocket and fired the game-winning pass to a receiver barely open. That’s an eye-popping, “Wow!” moment if ever there was one.
It reminded this columnist of his initial Herschel Walker moment. And before you roll your eyes, this certainly isn’t meant to proclaim Eason a future Heisman winner. Nor is it meant to compare his future with the career of Georgia’s greatest player. I’m speaking only of that eye-popping, initial “Wow!” moment.
It came on Walker’s very first play in Knoxville on that steamy night of Sept. 6, 1980. Finally inserted into the backfield in the second quarter, the third tailback deployed by Georgia that night, Walker took a pitch from Buck Belue and cruised around left end.
He went out of bounds after a gaining about five yards. But Walker got to the corner so quickly, so easily, so effortlessly, he made the run seem like it came in a Friday walk-through.
You knew, instantly, that he was special. For the next three years, he’d be able to pick up five yards around end virtually at will.
Saturday night, when Eason drilled that pass to McKenzie, you knew the same thing. Of course, it will take more than that to build a storied career.
But Eason showed signs throughout the game that his career could be special, too. Missouri dared Eason to beat them, and he did. The Tigers stacked the line, holding Nick Chubb to 64 yards. That used to be the production you’d get from him in a single quarter.
Forced to the air, Eason threw 55 passes. Three went for scores. Only one went to Missouri.
Eason completed 29 passes for 308 yards, with many coming after Georgia had been stuffed trying to run on first down. Twenty-nine pass attempts came on 2nd, 3rd, or 4th down, long-yardage situations.
Here’s another example of Eason demonstrating that certain something the great ones possess. Missouri took the opening kickoff and drove for a quick touchdown. After a five-and-out, Missouri drove for a field goal.
Georgia trailed, 10-0, with 8:20 left in the first quarter, and had been outgained, 136 yards to 17.
On Georgia’s next possession, Eason completed four third-down passes, keeping the drive alive. Making the required yardage wasn’t easy; Georgia faced third-and-10, -7, -7, and -4. The drive ended with McKenzie running in from the six, and kept Georgia from getting blown out.
Eason got Georgia’s next drive started by converting a 3rd-and-6, with an 8-yard pass to McKenzie. The 11-play, 61-yard drive, which put Georgia ahead, 14-10, featured eight Eason passes for 46 yards.
After Georgia fell behind, 20-14, with 3:31 left in the half, Eason took the Dogs back down the field for the go-ahead score. The 74-yard drive included five Eason passes, and no runs.
The final two throws went to Terry Godwin for 32 yards, and to McKenzie, for a 20-yard touchdown with 1:48 left in the half.
“The kid really grew up tonight,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart told georgiadogs.com. “The quarterback grew up a lot and became a better player.”
He still has a way to go.
“We need to get him looking in the right places,” Smart added. “Even that last drive, a couple times, Isaiah was tired or winded, and we have to get him out of there, and he kept throwing fade balls to him.”
And Eason missed some long balls to open receivers, and threw some short passes with too much juice.
But after Saturday night, there’s no doubt that Georgia has a special player at quarterback.