Bush Hamdan on UW’s offense against Eastern Washington
Jacob Eason’s most impressive throw fell incomplete.
After corralling a bad snap in the second quarter, Eason launched a ball 64 yards down the field toward senior wide receiver Aaron Fuller. Fuller, who slowed when he saw the snap, watched as the ball seemingly disappeared above the clouds before dropping on the field in front of him.
“I swear to you it came from heaven. …” Fuller said afterward. “I don’t know how he did it, but he did it with ease.”
Eason made a lot of things look easy in Washington’s 47-14 victory over FCS opponent Eastern Washington on Saturday.
The Huskies’ new starting quarterback completed 27-of-36 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns, setting the record for the most passing yards in a UW debut. Only three players have passed for more than 300 yards in their first game with the Huskies. His four touchdowns were also the most in a UW season opener since Brock Huard in 1998.
“I was eager to see what he could do because I hadn’t seen him play in any games and things like that,” Fuller said. “There was maybe a small bit of doubt just to see how he would control the offense and things like that but I never doubted his arm and his upside. It was cool to see.”
UW scored touchdowns on its first three offensive possessions but the second one provided the moment fans had been waiting for since Eason — a former five-star prospect out of Lake Stevens — transferred from Georgia.
After the Huskies went up 7-0 on a 23-yard touchdown from redshirt freshman Richard Newton out of the wildcat, the defense held Eastern Washington a three-and-out. And when Eason returned to the field, he let it fly. On the first play, he dropped a perfectly-placed 50-yard pass into the hands of Andre Baccellia, who continued in-stride to the end zone.
“You dream of things like this,” Eason said. “The way we handled practice this week and got the game plan ready and got the small things ready day-by-day throughout camp, I think this team has done a great job focusing each day. We came out and played like we have been all camp long. It was fun to do, fun to be a part of and super exciting for me.”
Heading into the game, linebacker Brandon Wellington said it was difficult to truly appreciate Eason’s arm strength until you see it in person. Eason, he said, could make 60-yard throws look like warm-up tosses. In the moments while the pass to Baccellia hung in the air, sending a hush over Husky Stadium, it was difficult to argue with that description.
Afterward, the buzz was palpable.
“Certainly in the opener, you got a lot of emotions going on,” said offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. “I liked how (Eason) was in-game. I liked how he was on the sidelines. I thought he took it one drive at a time and I hope we can build on that.”
UW head coach Chris Petersen worked diligently during the offseason to keep expectations for Eason reasonable. That task is about to get a lot harder.
“He was good,” Petersen said. “I think that our line did a nice job of getting him the ability to set his feet. It was a really good day one. … I think it was good for him to get hit a little bit today. He covered the gamut there today.”
With 4:17 left in the first quarter, Eason threw his second touchdown pass — a 7-yard fade to Fuller near the back corner of the end zone. Fuller made the catch of the game, and possibly the year, when he managed to secure the ball with one hand and drag a foot as he was falling out of bounds.
“That’s a player making plays,” Eason said. “He’s got that in him and he’s a great target to have. Even some of the things I saw shocked me. You know it’s awesome to have guys like that to throw to.”
Asked if that was a skill he worked on in practice, Fuller grinned.
“To be honest, (Coach Petersen) doesn’t like us doing that,” Fuller said, “so that’s more of a game-time thing. Everything just kind of clicked.”
That was a perfect description of UW’s day.
The Huskies rolled to a 28-7 lead at halftime, adding two more touchdowns in the third quarter before coasting to a win in the fourth with mostly backups on the field. Backup quarterback Jacob Sirmon completed 1-of-2 passes for 21 yards.
Eight players caught at least one reception. Senior receiver Chico McClatcher, who took time away from football after eight games last season, caught his first touchdown pass since the 2016 Pac-12 championship game. Newton, who scored on his first collegiate touch, paced UW on the ground with 12 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown. Salvon Ahmed rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
“I think the nature of what we’re doing, I think certainly a lot of different guys are going to get opportunities be it personnel groups or different formations,” Hamdan said. “I think Jacob did a really nice job of distributing the ball.”
UW’s defense showed up, too. The Huskies lost nine starters from that side of the ball from last season, but that didn’t seem to matter much. They held Eastern Washington to 247 yards, including 63 on the ground, and finished with four sacks and nine tackles for loss.
But the defense will have to wait for another day to grab the spotlight.
This one belonged to someone else.
“Jacob Eason is the real deal,” said Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best. “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.”
Starting center Nick Harris went down with an injury in the first quarter. He limped off the field with the help of two trainers and never returned. Harris spent the remainder on the game mostly standing on the sideline without his helmet. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Matteo Mele. ... Petersen said offensive lineman Henry Bainivalu and tight end Devin Culp were both serving a suspension on Saturday. Culp will return next week while Bainivalu will sit out for two more games. ... Junior wide receiver Ty Jones, listed as a backup on UW’s depth chart, watched from the sidelines in sweats. The Seattle Times reported that Jones will miss most of the season with a hand injury. ... Redshirt freshman defensive back Julius Irvin also didn’t play. He was on the sidelines in sweats.