BYU held a whiteout at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, but as Jacob Eason jogged off the field, the tunnel was lined with purple — and all the fans were clapping for him.
Washington’s quarterback made it halfway up the tunnel before his mouth guard slipped out of his hand. The cheering paused for a moment but as soon as he recovered it, raising his arm up slightly to the fans, it started all over again. It didn’t stop again until he disappeared into the locker room as the last Husky off the field.
It was a reception fit for Eason’s performance in UW’s 45-19 victory over the Cougars on Saturday. He wasn’t perfect, but he was awfully close.
Eason finished 24-of-28 for 290 yards and three touchdowns. At one point in the first half, he completed 13 straight passes before he was forced to throw the ball away in the second quarter. His lone miscue came late in the third quarter when an attempt to thread a ball through a tight window — most of those attempts were successful — ended in an interception. By then, though, the game was already well in-hand.
“I mean, it’s great,” said senior wide receiver Aaron Fuller. “He was clicking on all cylinders today: Hitting every throw, trusting us to get open and make those big plays. There was a throw on a reverse pass to (tight end) Hunter Bryant that he put on the money, great spot for Hunter to go up and get it. It’s great seeing him ball out.”
UW head coach Chris Petersen put it simply — “He was on,” he said with a grin.
“One (throw) that we’d like back, for sure,” Petersen said. “We didn’t need at that time. We just needed to get the run game going and all those things. He can fit some balls in there. He was on it. He checked some balls down. … Really, really nice. I thought he was really clean tonight.”
In guiding the No. 22 Huskies (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) to a 24-12 halftime lead, Eason threw touchdown passes on UW’s first two offensive possessions.
The first was a 17-yard pass to redshirt freshman running back Richard Newton in the end zone. Newton, who played receiver early in his high school career, managed to keep his toes in-bounds as he tipped forward near the sideline. Then, after BYU (2-2) scored on a 43-yard field goal, Eason found Fuller with another 17-yard pass. Fuller, who finished with eight receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown, held onto the ball while absorbing a hit in the end zone to put the Huskies up 14-3 after the extra point.
“I think it was just being on the moment, next play mentality,” Eason said of completing 13 straight passes. “I didn’t even know, actually, when it was going on. This is the first time I heard it. I just think just playing to play and doing my job on each individual play and going through my progressions.”
UW went up 21-3 when outside linebacker Ryan Bowman sacked Cougar quarterback Zach Wilson, causing a fumble that inside linebacker Brandon Wellington ran back 69 yards for a touchdown. The Huskies then grabbed their largest lead of the half, 24-3, after a 30-yard field goal.
BYU climbed back into the game by scoring the final six points of the half on a 1-yard rush from Emmanuel Esukpa — the Cougars missed the extra point — and a 54-yard field goal by Jake Oldroyd with 26 seconds left in the half. At the start of the third quarter, the Cougars looked ready to close the gap even more after UW outside linebacker Joe Tryon was ejected for targeting, which moved BYU to its 40-yard line.
But then freshman defensive back Trent McDuffie forced a fumble and recovered it, opening the flood gates for the Huskies.
On the UW’s ensuing possession, Eason found wide receiver Andre Baccellia with a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Then Fuller ran a punt back 88 yards for a touchdown.
Then Newton scored on a 3-yard rush.
Suddenly, with 5:22 left in the third quarter, BYU was looking at a 45-12 deficit. The Cougars added a touchdown at the end of the third quarter but by then, a comeback was already out of reach.
For the Huskies, who have struggled coming out of the half in their past two games, everything came together at once.
“You can’t just talk about things,” Petersen said of the recent third-quarter issues. “You got to work on them. That’s not good coaching, just talking. … There are some things at practice that we try to emphasize to try and get done to help those things. They came out and they played. There were some young guys that made some really good plays.”
UW finished with 477 total yards and held the Cougars to just 79 rushing yards. Even without starting running back Salvon Ahmed, who was out with a leg injury, the Huskies finished with 187 rushing yards. Sean McGrew led the way with a career high 110. While UW’s offense rolled, the defense came up with two fumble recoveries and an interception.
“It’s a young team in a lot of different ways,” Petersen said. “O-Line, they’ve been playing together for a long time. You got a quarterback figuring this whole system out. You got new running backs. Receivers, I thought that’s what it should look like. They can do some things. Those kids can all make plays. I think the strength of the receiver group is the receiver group. That’s what I think it is.
“Then you go to our defense, with all the guys we’ve lost and replacing. I think they’re growing all the time. I like how they practice. … They practice hard and remain focused. If you do that, you’re going to improve.”