True freshman QB Jacob Eason has been impressive in stretches for Georgia, but the Cocktail Party provides him the toughest matchup of his young career.
However, he isn’t the only inexperienced SEC East quarterback with a big opportunity Saturday. Kentucky and South Carolina quarterbacks will get chances to increase their teams’ profiles, while an experienced SEC West signal-caller simply tries to get his team to a bowl game.
Here are four quarterbacks with the toughest tasks in Week 9:
Jacob Eason, Georgia
Season stats: 113 of 208 for 1,366 yards, 9 TDs, 5 INTs
Eason has consistently gotten better, but the Georgia offense continues to get worse. The Bulldogs rank No. 89 offensively per Football Outsiders, ahead of just 11 Power 5 teams. No one is writing home about being ranked ahead of Kansas, Rutgers and Illinois. The passing game is a paltry No. 77, behind teams like Michigan State, Kentucky and Idaho.
With that resume, Florida is nightmare fuel. The Gators have perhaps the best secondary is college football led by super-elite cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson. Florida can take multiple receivers out of the ball game with single-coverage, and the Bulldogs simply don’t have any extra receivers to spare.
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
Season stats: 153 of 246 for 2,067 yards, 15 TDs, 7 INTs; 64 carries for 269 yards, 3 TDs
Kelly isn’t exactly having the standout senior campaign he planned. His numbers are down across the board and he has receded from obvious No. 1 quarterback in the conference toward the middle of the pack. Austin Allen, Trevor Knight, Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurts have all arguably had better seasons than the top returner.
Things will only get tougher this weekend against Auburn. Although the Tigers don’t have standout defensive backs, the Tigers are among the best at pressuring the quarterback in the nation. Defensive end Carl Lawson has 6.5 sacks and 18 QB hurries, while defensive tackle Montravius Adams has added 10 QB hurries. All the pressure will be on Kelly in both the pass and run games.
Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Season stats: 17 of 26 for 201 yards, 2 TDs
Bentley was the talk of the SEC East last weekend after a thrilling start to his career. The true freshman threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns in a win over UMass. Shockingly, it was the first time all season a South Carolina quarterback had a passing touchdown at Williams-Brice Stadium – neither Brandon McIlwain nor Perry Orth managed that feat in three previous chances.
However, Bentley’s task will get a whole lot more difficult Saturday. The Gamecocks host a hungry Tennessee team fresh off losses to Texas A&M and Alabama. Even though the Vols are broken down defensively, Tennessee still has a loaded defense that dwarfs anything UMass threw at Bentley last weekend. He has to adjust quickly.
Stephen Johnson, Kentucky
Season stats: 69 of 123 for 920 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs; 56 carries for 115 yards, TD
Don’t look now, but Johnson has moved to 4-1 as a starting quarterback with the Wildcats, with wins over three different SEC opponents. Granted, it’s three of the four worst teams in the conference, but it’s three conference wins nonetheless.
While Missouri isn’t exactly the most robust of opponents, this might be the most important game of Johnson’s young career. The Wildcats are just two games away from their first bowl appearance since 2010 and first under Mark Stoops. With Austin Peay on the schedule, one win is accounted for. However, an opportunity to pick up that final win on the road is an opportunity Kentucky can’t take lightly.