BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 11/22/2019

Thiel: Huskies could be No. 3, Eason is No. 22

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.

Jacob Eason was ranked 22nd among 130 quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

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:

1. Joe Burrow, LSU; 2, Justin Fields, Ohio State; 3. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma; 4. Justin Herbert, Oregon; 5, Trevor Lawrence, Clemson; 6. Tyler Huntley, Utah.

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.

 


YourThoughts

  • Mark Stratton

    Call me French Onion, but if a mediocre season brings Eason back for another year I’m good with that. This season is lost and the D should be nails next year.

    • Husky73

      The season is not lost. Three games to go. Using your reasoning, roughly 250 teams should just pack up and go home. It’s college football in the fall.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        Not playing for anything other than just playing the season out and getting an after thought bowl can not be considered in no way shape or form anything other than a lost season. You must be a Mariner season ticket holder, mediocrity is considered the norm there.

        • Husky73

          I’m a life long Husky football fan…..every game, every season. Some seasons are better than others. None are lost. I am the Mariner Optimist, and have been since 1977. Three desultory months lay ahead until spring training, when two top prospects go on the injured list and Ichiro gets at-bats in exhibition games.

          • art thiel

            For the program, seasons are never lost because in college, each game/practice presumptively builds toward the next season. For fans who believe in win-or-nothing, yes, it’s pointless. Those fans should be consistent and not watch, attend, or comment on column posts.

      • Mark Stratton

        Did they expand the FBS to 250 teams when I wasn’t looking?

        Nobody should pack up and go home, and my use of the term lost season was regrettable. It certainly hasn’t been the season Eason or anybody at Washington envisioned, and from the perspective of Eason’s draft status it hurts more than helps. Another season at UW would help his draft position if he wants to take the risk. As many others have said, it’s his choice and whether it will help him in the long term is unknowable.

        • Husky73

          According to Wikipedia, there are 347 D-1 schools playing college football.

    • Chris Alexander

      Admittedly, 8-4 (at best) isn’t what we expected from the Huskies this season. But it’s definitely not a “lost” season … especially if they go to a bowl game and WIN.

      • art thiel

        For teams, pointless bowl games are about the 15 extra practices. For fans, it’s a chance to fly to a warm location and drink around the holidays with folks other than relatives.

    • art thiel

      How do you feel about him potentially skipping a meaningless bowl game?

      • Mark Stratton

        If he’s decided to enter the draft then by all means skip the bowl game.

  • coug73

    I recommend Eason make his decision for his benefit. Hopefully he has good counsel. All the chatter about staying and going is nothing but a distraction.

    • art thiel

      Agreed. Eason is a bright guy who is unlikely to let the decision interfere with his play.

  • Effzee

    The best thing for everyone is that he come back for another year. *fingers crossed*

    • Husky73

      “The best thing for” HIM is if he can make several million dollars. If that’s the case, he’ll go to NFL. To pass up becoming an instant multi millionaire in a sport where a young man’s head is abused like the Liberty Bell would be foolish.

      • Chris Alexander

        Depends. If he goes Pro this year and gets picked in the 4th or 5th round then he’ll make LESS over the next 5 or 6 years than if he stays in school and ends up getting taken in Rounds 1, 2, or 3 the following year. The REAL question is: Will he improve his draft position “enough” if he stays?

        • art thiel

          The answer to the question is unknowable, and therefore moot. Keep in mind that NFL scouts tend to emphasize results from the combine/tryouts/interviews rather than the final college season.

          Imagine our conversation here if any five of Eason’s well-thrown balls were caught instead of dropped. Probably looking at 8-2 and in the hunt for a New Year’s Six bowl bid.

      • art thiel

        Well put.

    • art thiel

      “Everyone” doesn’t get to vote. One guy does.

  • Kevin Lynch

    “Arid scablands of the Gobi desert?” Wait a minute…isn’t that where the Mariners play ball? Great metaphors, Art!

    • art thiel

      Any time there’s room to use “scablands,” it’s a good day.

      • Tian Biao

        hey and the WSU game is coming up, another fine opportunity. nothing says scabland quite like the palouse . . .

        • art thiel

          C’mon now. All those lentil fields. . .

  • 1coolguy

    Cody Pickett was a high draft pick UNTIL he got crushed in the USC game and blew out his shoulder, BUT 1/ He was a runner, Eason isn’t and 2/ I think he’s the only Husky QB whose career has been affected by injury. I would stay senior year, especially if Petersen off’s Hamdan, who is WAY, WAY over his head.
    Let’s remember, the genius Hamdan had Eason split 1st team reps with Haener (who?) until ONE WEEK before the first game!!! As if there was any question, going into Spring practice. Of course Hamdan is clueless, but what does that say about CP’s decision making?
    The recent example of top OC’s was the LSU – Alabama game, both scoring over 40 against very good defenses. Sark is OC for Bama and LSU hired their OC from the NO Saints this year, who completely tuned around a run-first offense.
    Clearly the #1 task of CP this year is to hire a top OC, otherwise I have no, zero hope for the Huskies’ offense. And if I were Eason, I would consider transferring or going into the draft.

    • Husky73

      Cyler Miles.

    • art thiel

      Husky73 below cites another injured UW QB. It’s too great a risk for a potential first-rounder.
      Hamdan probably will go, but Eason’s less-than-stellar season has more to do with him than his OC. And a lot to do with a weak receiver group that’s dropped a cargo ship’s worth of passes.

  • woofer

    It’s hard to make a case that Eason wouldn’t benefit from another year of college ball. Tall with strong, accurate arm and a nice touch. Performs well when protected and everything goes according to script. But quickly gets lost when the pocket disappears and he is forced to improvise. It’s pretty obvious. Plus he’s a middle class kid from Lake Stevens under no huge family pressure to get rich now.

    • art thiel

      But what if he comes back and gets hurt as Tua did? Eason may lose millions. That’s a lot, even for Lake Stevens.

      • woofer

        It’s football. The risk of getting hurt is there every time you walk onto the field. But if this guy is coming in as the 22nd rated QB in the draft, big money is not yet on the table. My scientific guess is that the chances of another year in college getting him a truly big payday are greater than the risk of losing serious money now on a disabling injury.

        • art thiel

          The PFF list includes underclassmen, not just draft-eligibles.

          Obviously, the risk exists every game. He has to play, but he doesn’t have to play if he’s proven himself as a high draftee. It’s a business like any other: Risk vs. reward.

        • jafabian

          That was one of the reasons Brock Huard left with a year of eligibility remaining. His career ending injury happened as a pro. So I agree that when a player steps on the field there’s a risk. At one point Browning was a sure fire high draft pick and ended up not being drafted. If Eason came out now there’s no telling where he’ll be drafted if at all. It’s not like UW QB’s have had a good track record in the NFL lately.

  • Husky73

    Tonight was just an awful game. The Huskies were lethargic.