One thing was fairly certain heading into the Washington Huskies’ 2019 football season: a quarterback named Jake would lead them. The only question being, which one? Would it be Georgia transfer and Lake Stevens, Washington born Jacob Eason, 2018 backup quarterback Jake Haener or redshirt freshman Jacob Sirmon?
It’s a question many fans and pundits assumed was answered when Eason – a highly-touted recruit from the 2016 class – transferred from Georgia back home to help the Dawgs. Eason, a native of Lake Stevens, Washington, was a five-star recruit out of high school and has the build pro style coaches lust for (6-6, 227 lbs). He started for Georgia as a true freshman and led the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record. In 2017 he compiled 2,430 yards through the air and 16 TDs. But an injury in Georgia’s 2017 opener derailed his progress and allowed Jake Fromm to take command of the Bulldogs.
Seeing no opportunity to surpass Fromm on the depth chart, Eason transferred back to Washington and spent 2018 on the sidelines per NCAA transfer rules. After a battle with Jake Haener for the starting job, he was recently named UW’s starter by head coach Chris Petersen, though the coach was quick to note both quarterbacks would see playing time.
Yet just days after Jacob Eason was announced the starting quarterback, Haener elected to transfer from Washington. Haener’s decision makes him the second quarterback to transfer from Washington this season, as redshirt freshman Colson Yankoff transferred to UCLA in June.
Does this indicate something is amiss in Seattle? Or is this just about players seeking opportunities elsewhere?
The answer is more complicated than you’d expect.
Allowing collegiate athletes to transfer between programs is good. It allows young athletes to benefit from opportunities where they have better their chances at playing time. Jacob Eason is a beneficiary of such an ability, and with two season of eligibility remaining, it’s not difficult to understand why Yankoff and Haener transferred. If both remained at Washington they would need to burn two years of eligibility playing backup roles, something their talents were not fit for. Then you must consider the other young quarterbacks on Washington’s roster. Perhaps these up-and-comers, one a true freshman and the other a redshirt, were too much competition for Yankoff and Haener.
It’s not hard to imagine Jacob Sirmon pushing for the backup role, and now it is his to command. Yet, there is the complicated matter that Sirmon also considered transferring. That isn’t indicative of a normal quarterback battle, and had Sirmon transferred the Huskies would be left with just two quarterbacks on the roster, assuming Haener and Yankoff would still depart the program.
Something else has to be going on at Washington, right?
Is Petersen Forcing a Decision?
Jacob Eason has the pedigree to perform well. He has the size and abilities to thrive at quarterback. Questions have surrounded his work ethic, durability and progress (or lack thereof), however. This was highlighted throughout Washington’s spring camp and offseason, with reports emerging about Eason’s less-than-desirable work ethic and inability to stay healthy. Watching tape on Eason shows flaws in his footwork and decision-making abilities. This leads to the question: why Eason?
To be fair, fans are removed from the inner-workings of the team. They do not see everything that happens in practice and behind the scenes. Eason’s progress may lead Washington to a couple years of Pac-12 dominance. Yet the fact that Haener battled Eason for so long despite Eason’s physical attributes, and still decided to transfer, should concern Washington fans. In fact, Eason doesn’t have the full support of the Washington faithful. He’ll have to earn it throughout the year.
All this begs the question, is Chris Petersen forcing the decision to play Jacob Eason?
With a coach as respected as Petersen, it’s tough to say yes. But even the best of coaches are not immune to the pull of emotion or a great story. They are still human, and what a story Eason would be.
Just imagine, the local boy who showed promise but got hurt, coming back home to lead the Huskies to college football greatness. It’s an attractive one, and you can’t help but wonder whether Petersen felt pressured to start Eason because Eason chose the University of Washington.
Then, there’s his physical presence. Eason looks the part. He stands as a giant behind his offensive line and can launch the ball with minimal effort. It’s his decision making, football IQ and footwork that are questioned. Jamarcus Russell taught us how dangerous it is to rely on arm talent alone.
It’s a tough argument to make, but one not outside the realm of possibility. Haener competing with Eason for so long and still electing to transfer should concern Washington fans. Could it be that Washington’s quarterbacks felt slighted by Petersen or questioned his decision making abilities?
Whatever the reason for Eason’s appointment as Washington’s starter, plenty of questions remain. Most will be answered in the near future. The Huskies open their 2019 season by hosting Eastern Washington, a team they should not overlook. And at a point when the long offseason spurs rumors and speculation day-in and day-out, getting answers from the meaningful game action will be a welcome relief.