SEATTLE — The first touchdown scored by the University of Washington football team during the Jacob Eason Era happened when Eason wasn’t even behind center, but rather when the Huskies’ new starting quarterback was split out wide as the Dawgs lined up in the wildcat formation.
The next play Eason was on the field was a better representation of what everyone is expecting, as he threw a 50-yard bullet to Andre Baccellia for a touchdown.
Husky fans have been salivating at the prospect of Eason flinging the ball for Washington for more than a year, and in his Saturday debut he delivered better than Amazon Prime.
The Lake Stevens High School graduate was everything the Huskies could have hoped for and more as he led 13th-ranked Washington to a dominating 47-14 victory over Eastern Washington in its season opener at Husky Stadium.
“You dream of things like this,” Eason said about his Huskies debut. “The way we handled practice this week, the way we got into the game plan … we came out today and played like we did all camp long. It was fun to do, fun to be a part of and super exciting for me.”
Eason, one of the most heralded quarterback arrivals in Washington’s history, was nearly flawless in his debut, going 27-for-36 for 349 yards and four touchdowns against no interceptions.
“I think he was pretty good,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “I think Bush (Hamdan, Washington’s offensive coordinator) did a nice job of setting the table for him so he knew exactly what he was looking at. He looked really clean, our line did a nice job of giving him a chance him set his feet. So it was a good day one.”
Eason’s debut was far and away the most highly anticipated aspect of Saturday’s opener. The 2016 Lake Stevens graduate is among the best quarterback recruits ever from the state of Washington, as he was named the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year as a senior for the Vikings. He originally enrolled at Georgia, where he was a starter as a true freshman in the football heartland of the SEC. However, he suffered a minor knee injury in his first game as a sophomore and subsequently lost the starting job to Jake Fromm, prompting his transfer to Washington.
After sitting out last season because of transfer rules, the hype train was steaming at full speed upon the completion of last season. Eason, a junior, has the kind of physical gifts that make football scouts salivate, measuring in at 6-foot-6 and 227 pounds and having a cannon for an arm. When The Herald ran its Seattle Sidelines poll this week and asked readers to predict how many touchdowns Eason will throw this season, 70% of the responders predicted 20 or more, which would Top 10 in program history.
Based on Saturday’s showing, it seems the voters were onto something.
“I feel like I executed the game plan where the coaches were satisfied with it,” Eason said. “The end result I’m happy with. Now we’ll go digest that, go through it tomorrow, correct anything we did wrong and get ready for (next week’s opponent) Cal.”
Eason was far more than just satisfactory. He showed just about everything one could hope from a quarterback. He threw the long ball, hitting Baccellia in stride for the touchdown that made it 14-0 and just missing Aaron Fuller on a 60-plus yard pass that drew oohs and aahs from the Husky Stadium crowd. He made throws moving both to his left and his right, rolling out right to hit Fuller on a 14-yard completion and spinning away from pressure to complete a 28-yarder across his body to Hunter Bryant when moving left. He showed the arm strength to complete the out pattern to the long side of the field, and he showed the willingness to stand in the pocket and take a hit while making a throw.
But perhaps the most important thing Eason showed was judgment. No one questioned whether Eason had the physical tools. The question was whether he had the maturity and poise to be an elite college quarterback. That was fully on display early in the game when he was looking deep, saw no one open, and checked down to Salvon Ahmed for a simple 9-yard gain.
“Once the ball is snapped it’s football, it’s a game, that’s what my dad always said,” said Eason, who added that he didn’t feel any nerves in making his first start for Washington. “You just try to stay even-keeled, if you get too jittery as a quarterback you get flustered and overthrow some balls. You just try to take it all in, but realize it’s a game, you’re out the to have fun.”
Eason mentioned his dad, and one of the things he appreciated most about his debut was that his family was there to see it.
“My mom, dad and brother were there,” Eason said. “My sister unfortunately is in Denver doing volleyball with Seattle U., she might have watched it on the Pac-12 Network. Having them 45 minutes away is great because I know how much they care and how much they put into this to get me to this point. So having them out every game is going to be awesome.”
On Washington’s opening touchdown, Eason split out wide right in the wildcat formation as running back Richard Newton took the direct snap and raced up the middle 23 yards, giving the Huskies the lead just 4 minutes, 38 seconds into the game. The first one to arrive in the end zone to celebrate with Newton? None other than Eason.
And if Saturday’s performance was any kind of indication, Eason and the Huskies will be doing their share of celebrating all throughout the season.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.