Jalani Eason gives Vikings 1-2 punch at quarterback
The vertical lines in black and white on paper indicate Jalani Eason is the No. 2 quarterback at Portland State.
For purposes of putting words into some semblance of order on a weekly depth chart, the Vikings report their lineup this way:
"No. 6 Davis Alexander, 5-11, 195, sophomore
"No. 10 Jalani Eason, 5-11, 185 sophomore"
In this case, words are a bit deceiving, or at least they do not tell the whole story.
As the old saying goes, seeing is believing. And last week, the Sacramento State defense saw Eason bust touchdown runs of 82 and 47 yards that helped the Vikings nail down a 41-14 road victory over the host Hornets.
Eason also directed a 12-play, 92-yard touchdown drive midway through the first half, as PSU took control of the Big Sky game. Eason passed for two first downs and ran for another on the march.
"That's my game — sustain drives, dink and dunk down the field, and make sure my defense gets enough rest so when we score they can come out and get a stop," he says. "The line played well on that drive, the running backs did their job, and the receivers caught balls."
Alexander was good in the Sac State game, too, and he has been efficient this season as the first Vikings quarterback who trots onto the field and takes most of the snaps.
But Portland State coach Bruce Barnum has made use of Eason as a change of pace, which helps keep both players engaged. And after eight games, the 4-4 Vikings' leading rusher is the guy listed as the backup quarterback.
"I don't really see myself as a backup. I come in to play like I'm a starter," Eason says. "I come in to spark the offense and the team as a whole."
Eason figures to get at least a couple of series again on Saturday, when the Vikings play host to Idaho State at 7 p.m. at Hillsboro Stadium.
It's PSU's next-to-last home game this season, and it's a big one, as the Viks are looking for their fourth win in a row and have a chance to continue climbing in the conference standings.
To do so, they will have to upset an ISU team that is 5-3 overall and 4-1 in the Big Sky and thinks it has a shot to make the national playoffs.
Eason and Alexander are sophomores on a Portland State offense that has only four seniors and six juniors among its first 22 (the first- and second-stringers).
Eason, who is from Los Angeles and prepped at Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, California, began the 2017 season as the Vikings' starting quarterback.
In Game 2, the Viks had Oregon State on the ropes in Corvallis until Beavers QB Jake Luton drove them down the field in the final minutes, the way he did last week at Colorado in a huge upset for OSU over the Buffaloes.
Eason started five games last season. In six appearances, he compiled 803 yards and eight TDs passing along with 222 yards and two scores rushing.
Alexander came to the Vikings from Gig Harbor (Washington) High, and redshirted in 2016.
He started the final three games in 2017 and put up some good numbers, especially in the air. In five appearances, he passed for 1,233 yards and five touchdowns, going for 300-plus yards in each of his starts. He ran for 120 yards and two TDs.
The two QBs battled throughout 2018 spring ball and fall camp on the Park Blocks, with Barnum repeatedly saying he found little to distinguish between them because both were looking equally good.
Shortly before the 2018 opener, and forced to make a decision, the coach brought the two of them into his office to lay out the itinerary and proclaim Alexander the starter.
Eason has since showed he not only could handle the disappointment of being on the sideline but was not going to give up in being an important contributor to the Vikings, who have bounced back from an 0-11 season.
"We and Barnum talked. I know what's going on. I play hard and try to put points on the board," Eason says. "Me and Davis support each other, no matter who's on the field."
Alexander generally is considered the better thrower, Eason the better runner. Some of the Vikings' play selections are evidence of that.
But Alexander has showed the ability to run in short/medium bursts, enough to move the chains or make something out of a play when receivers are well-covered.
And Eason has showed he can complete passes as well as hit the high gear with his feet that makes him a threat to go the distance on any zone read or other running play.
"We bring different elements to the game, but most people don't realize our opposites are actually strengths," Eason says. "Just because I can run the ball doesn't mean I can't throw it, and just because Davis can throw the ball doesn't mean he can't run it.
"It keeps the defense on their toes, so that's pretty good."
This season, Alexander has completed 74 of 144 passes (51.4 percent) for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns, with three interceptions. His pass efficiency rating is 132.2. He tends to throw more of the vertical, downfield balls for the Vikings, and he hit freshman wide receiver Mataio Talalemotu from Beaverton High last week for an 81-yard score.
Eason has connected on 17 of 32 throws (53.1 percent) for 317 yards and three TDs, with no picks. His rating is 167.3.
Eason has carried the ball 46 times for 337 yards and three TDs this year.
Alexander has rushed 63 times for 262 yards and seven TDs, with a long run of 35 yards.
Eason's 82-yard touchdown romp last week had he and the Vikings smiling for days.
Barnum gave special kudos to senior right tackle Peter Fisherkeller for spotting Sac State's all-conference defensive back, Mister Harriel, shooting through a gap with his sights on stopping Eason for a loss. Fisherkeller, who has developed into a versatile starter up front, made the adjustment necessary to take Harriel out of the play with a key block. The opening provided was all Eason needed to deal the Hornets' hopes a crushing blow.
"Haven't had a really big run like that since high school. It was pretty fun," Eason said at practice on Tuesday.
Eason also revealed that he had a little Babe Ruth in him before that play — as in, how the Babe famously and supposedly called his shot before blasting a homer run in a 1932 World Series game.
"I got in the huddle and told the guys, 'I'm going to break this for a touchdown,'" Eason says. "I broke a tackle and went from there. Yeah, I kind of called it."
Barnum started chuckling when told of Eason's in-huddle prediction.
"He said that? Well, I hope he keeps calling it," Barnum said. "He can call that all he wants."