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September 3, 2014 at 8:04 AM

Eastern Washington’s dual-threat quarterback the ‘Vernon Football’ of the FCS

UW defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake (right) played and coached at Eastern Washington. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

UW defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake (right) played and coached at Eastern Washington. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

As a junior strong safety, Jimmy Lake helped Eastern Washington to the Big Sky Conference championship in 1997. The Eagles would finish 12-2 that year, advancing to the NCAA Division I-AA national semifinals.

Lake also began his coaching career at EWU, spending four more years in Cheney. Now the Huskies’ defensive backs coach, Lake is well aware of the attitude in the EWU program heading into Saturday’s showdown at Husky Stadium (noon, Pac-12 Networks).

The Eagles won the FCS national championship in 2010 and upset No. 25 Oregon State, 49-46, in Corvallis last year.

“If that doesn’t wake you up, I don’t know what will,” said Lake, an all-conference honorable-mention selection at EWU in 1998. “So our guys, they understand this is a very, very fierce opponent, very, very prolific on offense. They play tough defense; we’ll definitely have a fight on our hands.”

In a span of about 15 minutes Tuesday, Washington’s defensive coaches threw out about the highest compliments — and comparisons — possible for EWU quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.:

Russell Wilson, Johnny Manziel, Fran Tarkenton.

High praise, indeed.

“I called him ‘Vernon Football’ the other day,” UW defensive line coach Jeff Choate said. “This guys all over the place, running left, running right, throw the ball sideways over his head. He’s a tremendous player.”

Adams, at 6 feet, 190 pounds, threw for 411 yards and rushed for 107 in EWU’s victory at Oregon State. He might be the best player in the FCS.

“He’s smart, he’s accurate, he’s mobile,” said UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, an EWU assistant in 1998-99. “You could be in the perfect call for whatever play they’ve got and then he breaks it down because of his mobility. So we’ve got to do a good job of leveraging him, doing a good job of staying in coverage. We’ve got to stay after that guy, because he’s the guy that gets them.”

EWU’s four- and five-wide spread attack will be a challenge for the UW defense, and a much different one than they faced in Hawaii. The Eagles’ 17 rushing attempts against UW at Husky Stadium in 2011 were the fewest rushing attempts ever by a UW opponent (the Huskies escaped that one, 30-27, despite 473 passing yards by then EWU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell).

“They expect to win. Absolutely. No question,” Choate said. “They’re a team that’s won a lot of ball games, they’ve got a national championship on their resume. They’re not going to back down from anybody.

This will be a particularly interesting challenge for UW’s young defensive secondary. Free safety Budda Baker and cornerback Jermaine Kelly made their UW debuts to mixed reviews against Hawaii.

“Early on nerves were getting to them a little bit,” Kwiatkowski said. “As the game went on they settled down and they made some plays.”

Baker, especially, seemed more comfortable after the first quarter against Hawaii.

“The kid’s 18 years old, playing his first college football game and he’s playing against an Australian kid who’s 29 years old in No. 29 (Scott Harding, who is actually 28),” Lake said. “… He made some plays on him early on, but (Baker) settled down, he didn’t blink, he didn’t back down and he ended up making his own share of plays at the game progressed.”

True freshmen cornerbacks Naijiel Hale and Darren Gardenhire also made their UW debuts at Hawaii, and Lake said they — along with a third true freshman cornerback, Sidney Jones — will likely see more playing time against EWU.

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