Elite QBs can be virtually impossible to defend. Alabama has yet to field its own dominant signal-caller in the Nick Saban era. Mark Richt failed to take advantage of this vacuum at Georgia, and now Kirby Smart is stepping into Athens hoping to get this crucial position right so that a non-Tide SEC power can finally ascend.
Richt was looking to rectify this situation himself when Washington high school star Jacob Eason committed to the Bulldogs in July 2014. One of the first things Smart did in Athens was to lock down Eason and keep him in the fold. Another early move was to hire OC Jim Chaney, of Drew Brees-era Purdue and Bret Bielema's Arkansas, to develop Eason into the kind of QB that could allow Georgia to finally dethrone Saban.
Jacob Eason in his high school offense
Eason operated a spread offense at Lake Stevens High School up in the state of Washington, with a very potent running game and excellent cast of WRs.
Perhaps the best and most underrated element of the system was TE/slot WR Riley Krenz, an ultra-shifty 5'11, 196-pound receiver with flypaper hands that has accepted a spot with Mike Leach at Washington State as a preferred walk-on.
For Eason, things were often as simple as distributing the ball to 1,600-yard lead back Andrew Grimes or finding Krenz cutting open in the middle of the field. Lake Stevens used a lot of "quads" formations (four receivers to one side) from which they'd run traditional passing concepts.
For instance, here's a reliable way for getting Krenz open in the middle of the field to convert third-and-5 or so:
This combination of two in-routes (X and Y) with a seven-route (A) is a modern spread staple, but the presence of the fourth receiver to that side of the formation draws the middle linebacker and opens a space for Krenz (Y) to settle in a vacant zone. Eason's coach called a lot of normal spread passing concepts from quads formations like this, and they generally served to easily find soft spots in the zone over the middle.
From there, Eason would dominate with his accuracy and stunning ability to make every throw from the pocket or while moving his feet to avoid a pass rush. Eason has a lot of growing to do in reading defenses, like most QBs, and it's worth noting that his high school system was well designed to make this particularly easy for him.
However, his raw talent is overwhelming.
Eason doesn't even need to have his feet firmly set in order to hit tight windows and make long throws down the field. He reminds SB Nation recruiting guru Bud Elliott of Drew Bledsoe with the way he regularly beats safeties on post routes and seam routes with his velocity and ball placement.
In terms of physical tools, there's no doubt that this kid can execute any style of offense at a very high level, if he can learn to read defenses well enough to avoid mistakes. So, exactly what kind of system is he going to be learning to attack defenses with at Georgia?
Jacob Eason in the new Georgia offense
Jim Chaney made his name in the college football world by unleashing overlooked and undersized Texas HS QB Brees in a wide-open, spread offense at Purdue. That Purdue team won a split Big Ten championship in 2000. This was before everyone was unleashing overlooked and undersized Texans in spread offenses.
Chaney eventually entered the pro game but then came back to college at Tennessee in 2009 before joining Bielema at Arkansas. From his time in St. Louis with Scott Linehan he picked up the art of utilizing TEs and diverse run games with varied blocking schemes and angles, which has defined the Arkansas offense under Bielema's oversight.
In an age where schematic complexity tends to focus around the passing game, Chaney's diverse run game is a unique challenge, with its myriad of false keys and varying blocks for linebackers to recognize. After setting the table with these schemes and putting TEs on the field, Chaney then sprinkles back in his spread passing game.
Chaney's development towards becoming more TE- and run-focused is crucial for Eason, particularly if he's asked to step in and play soon. An offense built around a multiple run game that deploys TEs on the field is often an easier one for a QB to manage, since it generally only relies on the passing game to punish defensive responses to the run. Also, it's easier to hit 6'4+ targets in the middle of the field, especially if they are running free after faking a block.
Eason should again find himself in a scheme designed to create easier reads and allow him to quickly make the most of his ability to hit every throw while he continues to learn how to read defenses. To get on the field sooner than later, he'll just have to demonstrate he's the best man to execute concepts like this:
Chaney is a big fan of flexing his TEs back out to recreate the spread formations he used to terrorize the Big Ten back in the late 90s. This was a play he dialed up last year at Pitt to accomplish exactly that. The QB and RB execute a play-action fake to suck in the linebackers while one of the TEs lined up here at "H" runs a dig route behind the linebackers.
The free safety now has to determine if he's going to drop down and take away the dig route or stay deep to defend the post the Z receiver is running. In most schemes, he'll drop to take away the easier dig. The QB then has a window to fire the post route and beat the corner. This is one of Eason's better throws and the dig-post combo is a popular one for beating cover 4 defenses if the QB and WR can be trusted to execute the play with precision and beat that corner.
There are also quick game staples like this:
Chaney also loves to use bunch formations, with his TEs and H-backs in position to run routes or be involved in the run game. In this play, the TE runs inside and tries to box out the linebacker for a quick pass, the H-back runs to the flat to get the outside linebacker out of the passing window, and the outside receiver runs a shallow curl route looking to quickly get open in the window.
The bunch formation tends to make it easy for the receivers to get initial separation, and then it's just on the QB to make a quick read and dart the ball in through the window. Chaney has lots of plays like this that pack in everyone tight in order to allow a speedy WR to break free. They don't work the same as Lake Stevens's quad formation spread plays, but they should have a similar effect for Eason.