Until Saturday, it had been all mythology, hype and hope when it came to Jacob Eason, the man who just might be able to make Husky dreams come true. His reputation preceded him, but what would reality look like?
Against Eastern Washington, Eason was finally out there in flesh and blood, debuting with a flashy performance that won’t curb any of the best-case scenarios. In fact, watching him in real time, seeing the electric arm in live action, will just inflate them.
Washington coach Chris Petersen, who has a deep fear of Eason being oversold, was quick to point out that the Cal game next week will be a much sterner test.
But after watching Eason pass for four touchdowns in the Huskies’ 47-14 romp, and do things with his arm that haven’t been seen from a Husky quarterback in quite awhile, well, anything seems possible.
It wasn’t just the stats that were the best ever for a quarterback in his Husky debut — 27 completions in 36 attempts for 349 without anything close to an interception. More than that, it was the decision-making, the poise, and the command of the offense he displayed in the process.
“Jacob Eason is the real deal,’’ Eastern coach Aaron Best said. “I knew that when he was in ninth grade, so that didn’t surprise us at all. He’ll make the Pac-12 unhappy for weeks to come.”
Aaron Fuller caught two of Eason’s touchdown passes, each of which was worthy of highlight-video acclaim. There was also a 50-yard strike to Andre Baccellia that would have made Russell Wilson jealous, and a 10-yard scoring pass to Chico McClatcher that was the day’s sentimental favorite.
“The connection he had with us today was pretty awesome to see,’’ Fuller said. “That connection was like a match made in heaven, almost — him throwing the deep balls and just putting it on the money every throw.”
But it was an incompletion by Eason that confirmed to Fuller that the junior transfer is just a little different. In the first quarter, Eason briefly bobbled the center snap before letting loose with a bomb downfield toward Fuller, a prodigious throw over them mountains that elicited an audible gasp at Husky Stadium.
It landed incomplete but resonated like a thunderous flyover.
“That showcased his arm talent,’’ Fuller said. “I mean, he put that thing 70 yards in the air, with ease. It fell from heaven.”
For the Huskies, it’s like Eason did, too. Once the most coveted quarterback recruit in the country, he initially eluded the Huskies’ grasp despite being located right in their backyard.
But it didn’t work out at Georgia, so here he is, finally, in purple and gold, tasked with lifting the Huskies to a new echelon. It’s far too early to know how that will turn out; check back next week after he faces a Cal secondary some believe is the best in the country. But this sneak preview — even against an out-manned foe — makes it possible to believe that a blockbuster awaits.
There’s no question that Eason’s debut was the most hotly anticipated aspect of Saturday’s opener. And even less question that he satisfied every hope of the potential he offers at the position. That’s even more vital with Jake Haener’s transfer leaving Eason as the undisputed quarterback.
“I think Husky nation in general was eager to see what Eason would do — him being a five star, playing in Georgia as a freshman, things like that,” Fuller said. “Nobody knew what he was going to do. I think a lot of people had high hopes, and from today, I think he answered those questions.”
Whatever jitters Eason might have had for his first start in two years were knocked out early when he absorbed a clean but jarring hit as he threw the ball downfield. His response was something to the effect of: “Thanks, I needed that.”
“I felt that one a little bit,’’ he said with a smirk. “It’s football — you get up, slap him on the ass, and on to the next play.”
The 50-yard touchdown pass to Baccellia that started the onslaught could just as easily gone to tight end Hunter Bryant, who was also wide open, as Petersen noted. Eason said it was a play they had been planning all week.
“You know how fast Andre is. It’s pretty crazy,’’ he said. “With Andre, you can just let it fly, honestly. He can run under that thing.”
Another play that subtly showed off Eason’s arm was, again, one that didn’t hit — a pass to Bryant that he flicked across the length of the field with ease. It was negated by a penalty, yet hammered home the point that Eason can make any throw in the playbook.
Eason said his favorite play was the 7-yard fade to Fuller for a touchdown — but not just because of Fuller’s spectacular one-handed grab. He liked that Eastern jumped offside on the play and backup center Matteo Mele did what he had been coached to do — snap the ball so the Huskies could try to steal a positive play.
“I think that was the play where you said, ‘Dang, those are the things we’ve been working on, and then in a game situation it happens, and we’ve worked on them so much it felt natural,’ ’’ Eason said.
Mostly, Eason talked about how much fun he had. It was a word he used over and over. He tries to remind himself frequently, he said, to put it all in perspective, which is especially important when fans are attaching so much of their hopes and dreams on you.
“Once the ball is snapped, it’s football,’’ he said. “It’s a game. That’s what my dad always said. Just try to stay even keel. If you get too jittery as a quarterback, you’re going get flustered and overthrow some balls and that sort of thing.
“You just try to take it all in but realize it’s a game and you’re out there to have fun. That’s what you’ve got to do.”
It was, as Fuller said, a match made in heaven — with passes dropping down from the firmament.