Georgia coach Kirby Smart just announced that quarterback Jacob Eason’s knee injury — it’s a sprain, not a tear — will not require surgery. The Bulldogs expect him to return this season and are listing him as week-to-week, with no specific return date. He will not play against Notre Dame.
We can’t know what will happen over these next few weeks. But what, we ask, if Jake Fromm — good in relief against Appalachian State — finds success as a starter?
We sometimes hear it said that a starter shouldn’t lose his job because of injury. Were that noble sentiment entirely true, Tom Brady might still be a backup. He was pressed into service in 2001 when Drew Bledsoe was injured. Come the playoffs, Bledsoe was again healthy. Bill Belichick stuck with Brady as his starter, even in the Super Bowl against the Rams after Bledsoe saved the Patriots when his erstwhile understudy was hurt in the AFC championship versus Pittsburgh.
This isn’t to suggest that Eason is Bledsoe or Fromm is Brady, or vice versa. This is merely to note that sometimes you’re better off playing one quarterback, even if he’s the wrong quarterback, than trying to find enough snaps for both.
We reference Ohio State. Braxton Miller, the 2012 and 2013 Big Ten offensive player of the year, was hurt in the 2014 preseason. Backup J.T. Barrett led the Buckeyes to a division title – he was named the Big Ten’s top quarterback that year – but was himself injured against Michigan. Cardale Jones stepped into the breach and took Ohio State to conference and national championships.
Come 2015, all three – Miller, Barrett and Jones – remained on an overstocked OSU roster. Miller was moved to wide receiver. Jones began the season as the No. 1 quarterback; Barrett finished the year as the starter. The results were half what was expected from a team that entered the season as the first unanimous No. 1 in the annals of the Associated Press poll. The Buckeyes never quite found their stride, and a loss to Michigan State kept them from winning anything of consequence. In 2016, with only Barrett still a collegian, they returned to the College Football Playoff.
(Note: Barrett, in what seems his 17th year of eligibility, is still Ohio State’s quarterback.)
The point being: Quarterbacks aren’t pitchers. You don’t say, “Kershaw, you get us through three quarters and Jansen will take it from there.” Quarterbacks aren’t on pitch counts. Quarterbacks have a rhythm, and the entire offense picks up on that. Did not Georgia seem to move faster with Fromm than Eason on Saturday? (Answer: Yes.) Was that an accident? (Answers: Maybe, but maybe not.)
You never want your No. 1 quarterback to get hurt, the No. 1 quarterback being the most important player on any roster. Neither do you want there being a question as to who’s the No. 1 quarterback. The last team to win a national championship while splitting snaps was Florida in 2006, when the Gators’ No. 2/change-of-pace-guy was a freshman named Tebow.
(Championship quarterbacks since: Flynn, LSU; Tebow, Florida; McElroy, Alabama; Newton, Auburn; McCarron, Alabama; Winston, Florida State; Jones, Ohio State; Coker, Alabama, and Watson, Clemson.)
If Fromm struggles — and he might — the point’s moot. Eason’s the starter whenever he returns. But what if Georgia looks better with Fromm than it has with Eason? What then?