Jacob Eason will be the Washington Huskies’ starting quarterback in the team’s season opener next Saturday against Eastern Washington.
But he won’t be the only quarterback that plays.
After he announced Eason as the team’s starter on Friday, sixth-year Husky coach Chris Petersen added that sophomore Jake Haener will also receive reps in the game.
“Jake Haener and Jacob Eason … obviously two really good quarterbacks,” Petersen said. “It was a tight competition, and you take it as long as you can and you’ve got to make a decision and roll with it.
“Jake Haener will play in that first game. He should, he deserves it and he will.”
But exactly how much will Haener play? It certainly didn’t sound like a situation where Eason will assume the entirety of the snaps until late in the fourth quarter, when Haener would presumably enter with the score already out of reach.
But, when asked specifically if the plan is to split series with both quarterbacks, Petersen said: “We have a plan, but we would not tell you the plan.”
He would also not divulge if the aforementioned plan is to continue playing both Eason and Haener further into the regular season.
“You know us. We take this thing one day, one week at a time,” Petersen said. “We’ve set our plan moving forward, and you’re always adapting and adjusting depending on how things go.
“We’ve got our guy. We’re not having anybody look over their shoulder, but we’ve got a plan for how we’re going to do this. It’s important to have a good plan. You over-plan, you adapt and adjust as the seasons go. That’s just how it is.”
Eason, a 6-foot-6, 227-pound junior, and Haener, a 6-0, 194-pound sophomore, have been competing since last winter, when senior and four-year starter Jake Browning departed following Washington’s Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State.
It had long been assumed that Eason, a former Lake Stevens High School standout and five-star prospect, would ultimately settle in as UW’s starting quarterback. Before transferring to UW in the winter of 2018, Eason won the starting job as a true freshman at Georgia and passed for 2,430 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions, completing 55.1 percent of his passes, in 13 games in 2016. After injuring his knee in the 2017 season opener, he was replaced by Georgia freshman Jake Fromm.
As for Haener, the former Monte Vista (Calif.) High School standout appeared in four games as Browning’s back up last season, completing 9 of 13 passes for 107 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
And it appears he’s done enough this offseason to at least earn an extended look.
“It comes down to a gut feeling,” Petersen said of choosing a starting QB. “You’ve got to let a guy go play and grow in games and all of those type of things. That’s why Jake Haener’s going to play some, because he deserves it. He doesn’t have much legitimate game time himself.”
Still, Haener has more experience than Washington’s other two scholarship quarterbacks — redshirt freshman Jacob Sirmon and true freshman Dylan Morris. But the pair that will play against Eastern Washington weren’t the only ones who impressed Petersen in August.
“I still want to go back and say how impressed I was with all of our guys, and I really mean that sincerely,” he said. “If you want to talk about competition – raising the level of play in a room – it was all those guys. Jacob Sirmon did a tremendous job. He’s right there. And for Dylan Morris to be a freshman, he can go out there and operate, which most freshmen can’t do with the reps that he got. So it was awesome.”
It was “awesome,” and it might not be over. Eason is the starter, sure, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be splitting snaps as the Huskies move through their schedule. Petersen acknowledged the importance of his starter — in this case, Eason — feeling comfortable in his position, knowing that an errant pass won’t be met with a hasty hook.
“For sure. I think everybody knows that. You and I both know that,” Petersen said. “We talk about that. We talk about that long before these days come, not just with our quarterbacks but everybody. Guys have to play free and cut it loose and know there’s going to be mistakes made. We will look at that as coaches, and we’ve got to clean those things up in practice. But our mission around here, if there’s one thing, it’s a constant state of improvement. If guys are growing and improving, that’s all we can ask. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes.
“So there is a balance there. We all understand that, and they understand it as well.”
What’s there not to understand? Eason is the starter, Haener is the back up — and suddenly, one answer has yielded more questions.
“I truly mean this: We’re excited about this QB position, and we’ll see,” Petersen said.