Win out and the Huskies would be Pac-12’s third-best team. The modest feat would be a whole lot easier if QB Jason Eason knew better how to deal with pass-rush pressure.
If the Washington Huskies Huskies win Saturday at Colorado (7 p.m., ESPN) and Nov. 29 at home in the Apple Cup, both of which they will be favored to do, they will finish 8-4 overall and 5-4 in the Pac-12 Conference. They can make the argument they are the third-best team, since they beat USC, the only other contender for the auspicious claim of “We’re No. 3.”
Granted, given the league-wide mediocrity beyond Oregon and Utah, it’s a little like being designated the world’s tallest Corgi. Coaches like to call such a season “well-balanced,” but we all know better, mm-kay?
Nevertheless, third is hardly terrible, especially in light of UW’s hideous 20-19 loss at home to Cal on Sept. 7, which seemed at the time to foretell an autumn akin to one in the arid scablands of the Gobi Desert.
Coach Chris Petersen was even willing to concede this week that the competitive “balance” might provide a silver lining — a solid chance that the Pac-12 champion with a single loss might get invited to the four-team College Football Playoff.
Normally he looks at a favorable outcome for another team the way Bartolo Colon looks at a salad. But he’s lost four conference games, so a fresh glance at the menu is in order. The conference has been dismissed the past couple of seasons as the sick man of college football. True or not, it adds ammo for recruiting rivals.
“That’s what everybody from the outside keeps telling all these (recruits) every morning, noon and night,” Petersen said. “There’s so much more to it . . . It’s recruiting mumbo-jumbo, is all it is. You know it and I know it. Unfortunately, the kids go through it for the first time, so it’s like, ‘Yeah, I can’t stay here! I’ve got to get out of here!’ No, you don’t.
“If one of our teams gets in (the CFP), I think that helps us. I don’t necessarily like it, because that’s our direct competitor that’s there. But big picture-wise . . . if two of the teams that are running off with it get beat, that’s probably not good for the conference. I’ve been a broken record on this. Nobody wants to give us any credit the last couple of years, but, say what you want to say, there is parity in this conference.”
Apart from the outside consequences of losing games by one, 10, four and five points, the Huskies have a more curious internal matter of what happened to the promise of Jacob Eason, warrior transfer quarterback.
Eason retains the gifted NFL body and arm — if you ever need a baby thrown through Snoqualmie Falls and not get wet, he’s your guy — but in the football matters of pressure and response, he lacks a bit. The next two games could help resolve some of that, making the case that Petersen can fix him in a way that enhances a return for his senior year, or scare him into the NFL draft.
Pro Football Focus this week released this week some ambitious research that graded all 130 BCS starting quarterbacks. Given the hype that attended his prep career at Lake Stevens High and his subsequent decision to accept a scholarship from Georgia of the death-star Southeastern Conference, the results may surprise.
Long regarded as a sure first-round pick by the NFL, Eason was ranked 22nd of 130. Worse, he was behind four Pac-12 QBs.
The top six overall:
At 13 was Washington State’s Anthony Gordon, and 16th was Jake Luton of Oregon State.
Here’s what PFF said about Eason after grading his 10 games:
Eason has diced up defenses from a clean pocket, throwing 17 touchdowns and 2,152 yards with an 81.3% adjusted completion percentage when no pressure is allowed. Unfortunately, when pressure does get home, that’s when it gets a bit messy. Eason ranks 110th with a 53.2 passer rating when pressured, completing 35.2% of his passes and throwing multiple interceptions. Good thing is, he’s pressured on just 25.1% of his drop-backs, the 31st-lowest percentage. All of this has led to 19 big-time throws and the country’s 18th-highest overall grade and 25th-ranked passing grade. He has a pretty deep pass and can put some mustard behind some throws away from coverage, and will have an interesting decision ahead of him as to whether to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Whether you agree with the rankings, PFF applied uniform scouting standards to all starters regardless of conference or class to create a reasonable measuring stick.
After the Huskies had weak second halves against against Oregon and Utah, and only 19 points total against Oregon State — he had pick-sixes in each of the past two games — Eason is generating furrowed brows from fans, NFL scouts and, if he were more candid, Petersen, although he did edge out a bit.
“I think it’s a little bit trial by error,” he said. “He’s made both of those throws, a lot in practice. Both those interceptions aren’t new concepts to us. But, if you’re a little bit late, or maybe the look was a little bit different, you should come off that.
“I go back to the fact that he’s a redshirt junior that’s played going on two years now. I do think he’s getting better with the reps. But it’s not going to be perfect. There’s going to be things he wishes he had back. The more he sees things, the better he gets.”
Petersen claims that a habit Eason seems to have inherited from his predecessor, Jake Browning, the ill-advised spin-out from pressure, is fixable in the near-term by learning to step up in the pocket instead of out.
“It’s correctable and I think he’s done a better job,” he said. “Browning did that a lot. He’d get caught every now and then and (critics said), ‘What is he doing?’
“Everybody’s got to play to their style. Jacob is a pocket passer, so he needs to step up vertically and just get grooved into that. I think he’s made some progress there.”
If he does make progress, he may calm the skeptics and increase the likelihood he’ll pass on his senior year and enter the draft. If he doesn’t, the Huskies may lose twice, as well as their grip on No. 3, and wind up in the Dec. 27 Cheez-It Bowl, which is good news only if you’re a dip.