PROVO, Utah – Aaron Fuller’s evaluation of Jacob Eason was succinct, yet fully on point.
“I mean, he’s an NFL quarterback,’’ said Fuller, the Husky wide receiver who had a breakout game of his own. “He’s got the size, the arm, and everything. When he’s dialed in on the plays and his reads and things like that, he’s one of the greats.”
Turns out a real-life NFL quarterback agrees. During the game, Seahawks’ backup Geno Smith tweeted, “QB from UW legit.. like legit legit”
With each game, Eason’s command of Washington’s offense grows – and so does the scope of possibilities for the Huskies. As coach Chris Petersen put it after UW’s 45-19 dissection of Brigham Young on Saturday, there’s always something with Eason that’s better each week.
And this was Eason at his finest. For most of the first three quarters, in fact, his performance was close to perfection, with Fuller on the receiving end of a high-octane Eason fastball for a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
That is the beauty of Eason (and occasionally a detriment) – his ability to thread the football into ultra-tight windows, conjuring long gainers out of a seemingly hopeless situation.
“He throws a lot faster, so he’s going to trust his arm to put them in those windows,’’ Fuller said. “You’ve got to be ready any time to be able to catch the ball, whether it’s in traffic or wide open.”
The downside of such confidence was on display late in the third quarter when Eason tried to slip the ball in a window that was essentially closed. The Cougars intercepted, a turnover made far more palatable by the Huskies’ huge lead at the time (but less so by the thundering hit Eason absorbed on the Cougar return as he pursued the ballcarrier and instead absorbed a block that floored him; for a brief moment, the Huskies’ season flashed before one’s eyes. Eason was a bit wobbly when he stood up, but returned to the game and said afterward he was fine).
“It’s nice, it’s nice,’’ Petersen said of Eason’s big arm and his ability to rifle the ball between defenders. “He just needs to learn to balance how much room he needs. He needed a little more on that one.”
At one point in the first half, Eason completed 13 passes in a row, and when he hit Andre Baccellia on a slant for a 35-yard touchdown early in the third quarter, he stood 20-for-22 for 256 yards and three touchdowns. One of the incompletions was a throwaway after a heavy rush; the other was a throw to the end zone on which BYU could have been flagged for pass interference.
The Huskies stuck mostly to the run after that, and Eason finished 24-of-28 for 290 yards. In critiquing Eason’s performance, Petersen noted one play where he had a man open downfield yet checked down to a running back, and the interception.
Mostly, though, it was a clinic, one that made you wonder again how the quarterback battle with Jake Haener could have gone down to the wire. Eason’s raw tools are fully evident, but he’s also showing that he can unleash them in competition, this week doing so in a hostile road environment. It’s no wonder that he’s appearing as a potential top 10 pick in many (very early) NFL mock drafts.
“He was on,’’ Petersen said. “He had one that we’d like back, for sure. We didn’t need it at that time. We just needed to get the run game going and all those things.
“But he can fit some balls in there. That’s some of the learning things. But he was on it. He checked some balls where we were trying to go downfield to the backs, really really nice. I thought he was really clean tonight.”
Eason’s own summation of his day: “There were some good situations in the ballgame that went well. So I thought I did pretty solid.”
That’s about the most you’ll get out of him. Mostly, in time-honored quarterback fashion, Eason deflected the praise to the rest of his offense, which included the first 100-yard rushing game from Sean McGrew while replacing injured Salvon Ahmed, who didn’t make the trip to Provo.
The Huskies’ focus was on being aggressive early, and taking the sellout crowd, in “white-out” attire, out of the game. Bingo, and bingo. The Huskies’ first possession ended with a sweet touchdown pass in the corner to Richard Newton, the second with the bullet to Fuller, both 17 yards. The energy in the stadium deflated from there.
The defense contributed mightily with two forced fumbles that set up scores, one directly – a ball knocked loose by Ryan Bowman that was scooped up for a momentum-swinging touchdown of 69 yards by Brandon Wellington. And Fuller punctuated the rout with an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
That was the spice to Eason’s accomplished performance in his first road game since his Georgia days.
“I’ve done it before, but it’s been awhile,’’ he said. “I definitely do feel the comfort coming along. At the end of the day, it’s football, and we’ve done it our whole lives. Just going out and having fun is my favorite thing to do.”
And when Eason’s fun translates into a day like Saturday’s, it’s hard not to wonder if the Huskies can overcome the Cal loss and achieve some of their loftiest goals. The more you watch him, the more legitimate that appears.
Like, legit legit.