By CHARLES ODUM
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia freshman Jacob Eason is proving he can be trusted in the closing minutes.
In fact, the young quarterback's best play has come in high-pressure situations late in games, providing confidence that will be needed in Saturday's visit from No. 8 Auburn.
Coach Kirby Smart said Eason showed impressive poise when he led the Bulldogs to a last-second 27-24 win at Kentucky last week. Eason completed each of his four passes on the game-winning drive that began with less than three minutes remaining. Georgia won on Rodrigo Blankenship's 25-yard field goal as time expired.
Following the game, Smart said Eason "does not feel pressure. That's just the kid. He has a very calm demeanor, which is what you want a quarterback to have."
Eason's first late game-winning drive came at Missouri early in the season. He also threw a go-ahead 47-yard touchdown pass to Riley Ridley with only 10 seconds remaining against Tennessee. That dramatic pass became a footnote when the Vols won the game with a Hail Mary pass.
"He's a kid that the more he plays in a game, I think the more confident he gets," Smart said Monday.
Georgia (5-4, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) had lost four of five, including two straight, before the win at Kentucky. Auburn (7-2, 5-1, No. 9 CFP) will be playing to preserve its SEC championship hopes and shot at making the playoffs.
It hasn't been a smooth first season for Eason, who has started the last eight games.
After winning the starting job from senior Greyson Lambert, Eason hasn't always played as well as in some late-game pressure situations. He has completed 145 of 272 passes for 1,754 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Smart said Eason "has got a long way to go."
"He's got to improve," Smart said. "He's got to improve communication, decision making ... but I certainly think these opportunities at the end of the game give him a chance to show leadership and gain the confidence of the other players."
Eason has not been made available to speak with reporters this season.
Eason may have found a new favorite target. Javon Wims, a junior college transfer, set career highs with five catches for 90 yards against Kentucky. Wims (6-4, 215) gives Eason a tall and physical target. Wims showed his big-play potential on a 51-yard catch.
Wims said he is developing a bond with Eason. He said they are "just getting to know each other as friends and teammates."
"We both are very goofy guys," Wims said. "The connection has been growing a lot stronger. He's trusting me a lot more to make plays if he throws me the ball."
Wims said last week's game-winning drive was important for Eason.
"We are tremendously confident in Jacob," Wims said. "He has been improving each and every week. He's been practicing better and we've been developing better timing with him. It's going to boost his confidence going forward."
NOTES: Smart said S Kirby Choates, listed as the top backup to Dominick Sanders, "is focusing on academics right now." Choates has missed the last four games. ... Smart said WR Jayson Stanley will miss the game with a foot injury. He said DT DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle is questionable after missing the Kentucky game with an ankle injury.
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