SEATTLE — Meet the new Huskies. Same as the old Huskies.
The new-look University of Washington football team made its 2019 debut Saturday afternoon at Husky Stadium, and the Huskies showed all the same qualities from the previous regime, dominating the Eastern Washington University Eagles 47-14.
This is a new era in Washington football. Gone are the team’s stalwarts in quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, who comprised the core of the offense the previous four seasons. So too are nine defensive starters from the team that won last year’s Pac-12 championship, including five who were selected in the NFL draft.
But the 13th-ranked Huskies didn’t miss a beat. New quarterback Jacob Eason, a Lake Stevens High School graduate, went wild in his Washington debut, going 27-for-36 for 349 yards and four touchdowns. The first-string defense was one missed tackle away from tossing a shutout prior to giving way to the second stringers in the third quarter.
And while Eastern may be an FCS opponent, the Eagles are no joke as they reached the FCS national championship game last season. Yet they were swatted aside right from the start, as Washington scored on each of its first three drives to establish a 21-0 lead less than 11 minutes into the game.
“Next man up, that’s kind of how it is,” said Washington defensive back Elijah Molden, one of the few recognizable names returning on defense.
“I thought it was a good start, fairly clean for the most part with the first-game jitters,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “There are a couple things we have to clean up on offense, some game management-type things. I’m proud of our O-line, they let Jacob Eason set his feet, and I thought our receivers made some plays. Our defense did a great job the first three drives, we started on pretty short fields and that changes everything for us.”
Eason was impressive, as the transfer from Georgia showed off the big arm he’s known for — he hit Andre Baccellia in stride for a 50-yard touchdown that made it 14-0 — and spread the ball around, with eight different players catching passes while none caught more than six.
Eason also received assistance from his receivers, particularly from Aaron Fuller. Fuller made two spectacular touchdown catches. The first came late in the first quarter when, on a fade route to the left corner of the end zone, he leaped up, grabbed the ball with one hand, then tapped a toe in bounds for a 7-yard touchdown that gave Washington a 21-0 lead. Then early in the third quarter, again in the left corner of the end zone, Fuller dived to haul in an 18-yard TD that made it 35-7.
“(The receivers) made plays, they really did,” Petersen said. “I thought Aaron showed up, he made some tough catches, two really good catches, and that’s what we need him to do. We need to be able to position them to make sure they have space to operate and go make plays, and I thought we did a nice job of that today.”
Said Fuller: “It was just natural instinct. I guess I felt it a little bit. J.E. put it on the money, so it was more the throw than it was the catch.”
Washington’s passing attack was aided by a run game that piled up 200 yards on 43 carries. Richard Newton, a redshirt freshman, led the way with 91 yards on 12 carries, including a 23-yard touchdown from the wildcat formation 4:38 into the game that was his first touch as a collegian. Even Meadowdale High School graduate Malik Braxton got in on the action as he made the most of his two late carries with 43 yards, including a 34-yard scamper that he almost scored on.
Meanwhile on defense, the Huskies were able to contain Eastern quarterback Eric Barriere. Barriere, who’s equally adept at making plays with his arm and his legs, was held to 35 yards rushing on 10 carries and was sacked four times. He finished 21-for-35 for 211 yards and one touchdown.
“I was really pleased that we got any sacks today, I think we got four,” Petersen said. “Eric Barriere, he’s a really hard guy to sack. We watched all that tape and he’s as good a scrambler as we’ll see, so for us to get to him four times we’re really pleased.”
Eason wasn’t the only Snohomish County native making his first start for the Huskies. Kyler Gordon, a redshirt freshman from Archbishop Murphy High School, started at right cornerback and had a productive day, finishing with four tackles as he provided good run support — though he was also called for defensive holding twice. … Eastern has eight players from Snohomish County on its roster, and while none of them started, five saw time. Linebacker Andrew Katzenberger (Lynnwood High School) and defensive tackle Joshua Jerome (Monroe) rotated in early in the game, safety Anthany Smith (Mariner) and running back Isaiah Lewis (Monroe) saw time late, and defensive back Anfernee Gurley (Archbishop Murphy) played on special teams. … The one blot on Washington’s day was the loss of center Nick Harris. Harris suffered what appeared to be a leg injury during the first quarter, had to be helped from the field and did not return. Petersen did not provide any details about the injury after the game.