BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 12/20/2019

Thiel: So awkward, this Huskies bowl game

Bad enough that Chris Petersen has to face his old school. QB Jacob Eason has to face Boise State’s sack-monster LB without Hunter Bryant and Trey Adams. Awkward.

Boise State coach Chris Petersen, with the Las Vegas Bowl trophy in 2012 after beating Washington 28-26, will hold the trophy again if Washington beats Boise State Saturday. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest file

The instant the matchup was revealed, the game was called the Chris Petersen Bowl. But that’s not even the half of it. The less-than-epic Las Vegas Bowl Saturday (4:30 p.m., ABC) between the Washington Huskies and the Boise State Broncos should be called the Awkward Bowl.

You know, like when you’re in the neighbor’s tool shed, and he comes in and asks why you didn’t seek permission. You would, um, rather be somewhere else.

As you may have read, Petersen, the state’s highest-paid employee, stunned the Western world Dec. 2 by walking away from millions of dollars gladly paid him by one of the more prestigious shops in the industry. Yet he shall linger under his headset along the sidelines Saturday, trying to beat in his final UW game the school that launched his career to a pinnacle, from which he now leaps because he no longer likes the job.

Awkward.

Jimmy Lake is head coach-designate, but is not in charge Saturday, instead working with fellow assistants, one or more of whom he could fire as soon as Sunday. Make sure the plane ticket is R/T, fellas.

Two team stalwarts, LT Trey Adams and TE Hunter Bryant, didn’t think enough of the event to bother showing up. Junior QB Jacob Eason is present, but is draft-eligible and may not be present for long. So too for DL Levi Onwuzurike, who said last week he made up his mind about his future, but is not yet publicly sharing his decision.

Waiting until after the bowl, Levi? “Not necessarily,” he said. Maybe he’s waiting to join Petersen at the Buddhist temple session on kick/run/pass mindfulness at 4th and 1 at the 33-yard line.

Just to top off the awkwardness, the 7-5 team is favored by 3.5 points over the 19th-ranked 12-1 team.

If you enjoy the sound of hiking boots in a clothes dryer, you must also savor postseason college football.

No matter the clumsiness, it is important to keep smiling. Hell, it’s a free trip to Vegas.

“We love coming to this game,” Petersen told reporters this week. “I think this is my fifth time here as a coach. It’s awesome for the players. I think the date is awesome because kids get to go home for Christmas.

“To play a team like Boise State, that’s what guys want to do is play good teams. This is a really good situation.”

Well, if you say so. Obviously, Adams and Bryant disagree.

Since both players are likely NFL draftees, they have become the first Huskies to join the growing national trend among premier college players of intentionally skipping the meaning- and prestige-free bowls. The trend might have started sooner at Montlake, but for the past three seasons, UW qualified for one of the cool-kids New Year’s Day bowls. But at 7-5, the Huskies must settle for the $1 taco lunch truck.

The arrival of such choices for players likely is part of what was grinding at Petersen’s enjoyment of coaching. With each liberalization of NCAA rules that brought bits of fairness into an unfair system, old-schoolers such as Petersen felt their temples throb. And wait until the new California state law that allows for player compensation erodes the NCAA’s corrupt foundation of amateurism.

“Certain guys have to do what they have to do,” Petersen said, skirting dismissively the absences of Bryant and Adams. But the decision seems to have worked for Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, N’Keal Harry, Ed Oliver and other successful NFL players who made the easy risk/reward  choice.

Were you tempted, Jacob Eason, to join Adams and Bryant?

“I respect those guys because they put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears here,” he said, echoing sentiments of several teammates. “Trey and Hunter have both done a lot of great things here, done a lot and sacrificed a lot for the team. We love ’em to death. No hard feelings at all.

“Everyone has their own personal choices. Health reasons, things like that. I’ve always been one to finish what I start. I started this season, I’ll finish no matter what the case is. I’m ready to have fun on Saturday.”

Whoa. If you’re a finish-what-you-start kinda guy, that means you’re going to finish your senior year at Washington, right?

“Right now, I’m just focused on Boise State,” he said. “Just on the game, and finishing out with my guys.”

Oh. If situational ethics are good for the coach, they must be good for the player.

Pragmatically, and ironically, Eason needs this game to show out, in order to help justify skipping his senior season. Heralded upon his transfer from Georgia as a premium talent, Eason’s QB efficiency rating was seventh in the Pac-12 at 144.8, more than 40 points behind leader Tyler Huntley of Utah. The Huskies’ receivers and pass-protectors contributed to that low number, but he’s stuck wearing it.

Even if pro scouts rely much more on the results from the combine and pro-day workouts than a bowl game, Eason wants to be on an uptick that helps squelch the one-more-year-for-a-bigger-payday talk.

Unfortunately for him, Boise State’s best player is a 6-3, 265-pound linebacker named Curtis Weaver, a three-time All-Mountain West Conference selection and defensive player of the year whose 33 career sacks is a MWC record.

Eason will face this guy without his most rust-worthy receiver in Bryant (52 catches) and best backside protector in Adams, a four-year starter and all-Pac-12 choice.

As was mentioned: Awkward.

 

 


YourThoughts

  • Kevin Lynch

    Solid article, Art! Insightful with a dash of rue. College athletics are beginning to mirror America with money being a guiding principle. Or maybe THE guiding principle. Hey, where is hat taco stand with the $1 tacos? Get me three, will ya?

    • art thiel

      They’re small. You’d have to buy 10, and then you’d spend all evening in the rest room.

      • Kristafarian

        Speaking of which — “You know, like when you’re in the neighbor’s tool shed, and he comes in and asks why you didn’t seek permission.”

        Next time, just tell him your septic’s backed up, Art.
        Pretty sure he’ll understand (IF you don’t mention his lack of tp).

  • Husky73

    There is both sadness and a relief when it comes to the last Husky game of the season. I am deep purple, and live for each game. But, I am also relieved to let it go and decompress. However, by mid April of 2020, I’ll start getting nervous about the opener against Michigan, and I’ll have 90 Mariner defeats to help me though the summer until kickoff.

    • art thiel

      Look at you, Mr. Mariner Optimist.

  • Bruce McDermott

    All true, but Adams is not the player that he was before injuries. The drop-off won’t be as steep as it might have been.

    • art thiel

      True. The back injury made a dent. It’s a shame. Lots of cash foregone while playing for free.

  • jafabian

    After the CFP and the Rose Bowl the Las Vegas Bowl seems a bit anti-climatic. Add to that it’s Coach Petersen’s last game only adds to the void that some Husky fans are experiencing. Hoping for a fun game and a Husky win.

    • art thiel

      Well, you got your wishes.

  • 3 Lions

    As much as Eason needs another year you can’t fault him for going for the money. By going in the draft now he’d be off his rookie contract a year sooner than if he stays at the UW. Potentially, that’s a lot of money at starting NFL quarterback rates. He would more likely go lower in next years draft to possibly a better team and get some time to adapt vs. the high expectations associated with being a top draft pick. That being said, I hope he stays at the UW and fine tunes his game.

    • art thiel

      Lots of considerations, not the least of which is who the OC is.

  • Rick Lott

    Chris Petersen
    should go to dallas Kellen Moore is already there