Saturday’s 52-20 win over Hawaii was wish fulfillment for Washington fans.
All except for the third quarter.
Wish: Please, puh-lease, get tight end Hunter Bryant more involved in the offense.
Fulfillment: Washington’s 6-foot-2, 239-pound junior tight end scored his third career touchdown on his team’s third offensive play, sprinting up the seam for a 47-yard score. Hawaii senior safety Ikem Okeke trailed behind him like a busted bobblehead, his black helmet bouncing forward and back as he failed to make up ground.
“I was actually looking at the screen (as I ran) to see where the guy was behind me and how much space I had,” Bryant said. “He was a decent amount behind me, so I felt good.”
That was the first of three touchdown passes for Eason, who also completed 18 of 25 passes for 262 yards in a productive performance. The biggest chunk — 115 — of those yards went to Bryant, who finished with five catches and the tone-setting score.
And, by the way, Bryant’s breakout game doubled as wish fulfillment for Eason as well.
“I think it was cool to see Hunter score on the third play of the game,” Eason said. “We’ve been hitting those plays in practice. But Hunter got in the end zone today, and we’ve been talking about that for a while because he’s a good guy and a friend of mine. So it was cool to see him score on a long touchdown.”
Wish: Can this inexperienced UW defense please produce a turnover?
Fulfillment: No problem! Washington’s first forced turnover of the season came on Hawaii’s second offensive play, when senior safety Myles Bryant jumped an out-route and secured his second career pick. Bryant — who also claimed the Huskies’ lone sack — added another in the second quarter, literally stealing the ball from Rainbow Warrior receiver JoJo Ward for his second interception of the game. Freshman safety Cam Williams earned his first career interception in the second half, snatching a pass that was tipped by linebacker Kyler Manu.
So, how would Husky head coach Chris Petersen explain his secondary’s sudden interception surge?
“I don’t know,” Petersen said. “I really don’t, because we work so hard on it every day. We got a couple tipped balls, and we work on that drill. It was nice to get some, because the kids have been working for a long time to get these turnovers and it’s been a couple games since we’ve gotten any. Hopefully they’ll keep coming in bunches.”
Of course, there could be another answer. In three games this season, Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald has thrown nine touchdown passes … and eight interceptions.
Wish: Washington wide receivers need to stop dropping footballs.
Fulfillment: After suffering what position coach Junior Adams called “a bad case of the drops” in the loss to Cal, his receivers seemed to be cured — at least in the first half — Saturday. Senior wideout Aaron Fuller hauled in a 37-yard laser from Eason early in the second quarter for his third touchdown of the season. Andre Baccellia, Chico McClatcher and running back Salvon Ahmed got in on the act as well.
“I know they can make plays. I know that’s not going to be a repetitive thing,” Eason said of his receivers. “They do it all week in practice. Guys are going to make mistakes. No one’s perfect. You can’t get down on them, because I know the way they can play and the way they have been playing. They went out there and executed today. Last week was last week.”
Oh, and speaking of wide receivers …
Wish: Can we finally see some of Washington’s young receivers? Where the heck is Puka Nacua?
Fulfillment: In the first quarter on Saturday, Nacua was in the end zone. The 6-foot-1, 204-pound freshman’s first career catch was one to remember, as Nacua sprinted past corner Rojesterman Farris II and hauled in a pass from Eason for a 28-yard score.
“That was actually my second or third read there,” Eason said. “He ran a nice route. He wasn’t tremendously open. I just thought he’d make a play on the ball, and he did.”
Nacua scored, and he celebrated. The former four-star prospect lifted both hands in the air and shouted, seemingly expelling several weeks of pent-up frustration in the process.
Oh, and speaking of frustration …
The third quarter. How about that third quarter? Hawaii scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives in the second and third quarters, piling up 228 total yards and grinding 14:47-worth of clock. The Rainbow Warriors produced back-to-back 14-play drives, peppering the Huskies with a flurry of painfully accurate jabs. Just like last week, the Husky pass rush disappeared. And just like last week, Jimmy Lake’s defense unexpectedly — albeit temporarily — buckled. Plus, in their only offensive drive of the quarter, UW lost 10 yards and produced a holding penalty and a pair of drops.
“You can see in the second half how they play,” Petersen said of Hawaii’s offense. “They go for it a lot on fourth down. They keep moving the sticks. They’re long drives. I think we had the ball five plays in the third quarter, and really one drive before we went to the fourth quarter. So they keep your guys cold on the sideline.
“They did a great job of converting fourth downs. So all that’s very awkward and difficult.”
Yes, it was a win. Yes, the offense rebounded with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Yes, Washington running backs registered 190 rushing yards and 6.1 yards per carry, scoring four times. Yes, redshirt freshman Richard Newton barreled in three times from eight yards or less.
Yes, the Huskies are 2-1. But there’s room for more wishes.