Jacob Eason starts anew as No. 13 UW Huskies host Eastern Washington
By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE (AP) – UW Huskies QB Jacob Eason has been through countless practices and scrimmages, but his last real pass came nearly two years ago when he was a backup at Georgia.
On Saturday, he finally gets to start for the 13th-ranked Huskies, who face FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington in their season opener.
The former No. 1 recruit in the country started at Georgia as a freshman. He was hurt early in his sophomore season and never regained the job from Jake Fromm. Now he is home after sitting out last season and looking to keep Washington at the top of the Pac-12.
“I think we’re all excited to play, knowing we’ve got some work to do this week,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said.
Eason’s last pass came during mop-up duty in October 2017, three completions against Vanderbilt. It’s been a long stretch of watching and waiting and hoping for another chance to start.
It almost didn’t happen. Eason was pushed throughout spring practice and into fall camp by Jake Haener before finally being named the starter last week. Haener left the program and may have relieved some of Eason’s pressure. There’s no one waiting if Eason falters.
“Things are a little bit more clear-cut, in terms of you’ve got a pecking order going forward,” Petersen said.
While the Huskies are opening with an FCS opponent this is not a soft landing.
Eastern Washington reached the national championship game last year before falling to North Dakota State. The Eagles return only nine starters but bring back quarterback Eric Barriere. He took over midseason and led the Eagles to the title game.
The Eagles have made life miserable in their previous two games against the Huskies, losing 30-27 in 2011 and 59-52 in 2014 in Petersen’s first home game at Washington.
“We will be in adverse situations against Washington – I can guarantee you that,” Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best said. “Hopefully we have taken a step forward to be ready for those adverse situations, and to come out of those situations knowing we can make a positive out of a negative.”
Here’s what else to watch when the Huskies and Eagles play for the third time:
NEW BACKFIELD: Eason isn’t the only new face in Washington’s backfield. Washington must replace Myles Gaskin, the school’s all-time rushing leader. Salvon Ahmed is likely to get the bulk of the carries with Sean McGrew also in the mix. Ahmed rushed for 608 yards and averaged 5.8 last year.
BARRIERE’S TEAM: Barriere came on last year after Gage Gubrud injured a toe. He led the Eagles for the final 10 games, throwing for 2,450 yards and 24 touchdowns. His best game came in the national semifinals against Maine when he passed for 352 yards and seven touchdowns. Barriere could also challenge the Huskies with his legs. He rushed for 613 yards and eight TDs last season and twice nearly broke the 100 yards on the ground.
SECONDARY CONCERN: Washington will be breaking in four new starters in the secondary, with Myles Bryant the only returning starter. But no drop off is expected. The Huskies are high on the potential of Elijah Molden, Kyler Gordon, Keith Taylor and freshman Cam Williams joining Bryant in the secondary. The group could end up being better last year’s secondary, which included draft picks Byron Murphy, Taylor Rapp and Jordan Miller.
HOME SWEET HOME: This is the start of three straight home games for Washington and four of the first five. The Huskies jump into conference play next week, hosting California before facing Hawaii and closing out September with a home matchup against Southern California. Why is that important? The Huskies have the fourth-longest home winning streak in the country at 14 straight.