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Eastern Washington’s Eric Barriere, Jacksonville State’s Zerrick Cooper set for showdown of elite FCS quarterbacks

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 12, 2019, 10:20 p.m.

Washington quarterback Jacob Eason fit the prototype of a former five-star recruit, using his 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame to dissect Eastern Washington’s secondary earlier this month.

The Eagles aren’t done facing top-10 quarterbacks from the 2016 recruiting class.

When fourth-ranked EWU makes the 2,350-mile trek to Jacksonville, Alabama, on Saturday to face No. 17 Jacksonville State – the STATS Football Championship Subdivision Game of the Week – it will be met by another cannon-armed talent.

Zerrick Cooper, a 6-4, 225-pound dual threat, has swiftly made his mark on the FCS level since transferring from national powerhouse Clemson, piling up 3,782 total yards, 38 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for JSU in 2018.

Cooper may surpass those numbers in 2019.

The preseason Walter Payton Award candidate – boosted by a group of tall, experienced and talented receivers – has completed 60 of 78 passes for 758 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in two games.

“He’s the real deal,” EWU head coach Aaron Best said of Cooper. “Throws the prettiest deep ball I’ve seen in a long time.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney thought so, too.

Cooper was the country’s seventh-ranked high school quarterback in his class, according to Rivals.com, signing with the Tigers in 2016, months before the program won the College Football Playoff.

He redshirted in 2016 and appeared in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2017, passing for 256 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for 18 yards on 10 carries.

When the quarterback room at Clemson got too full – the Tigers signed current sophomore phenom Trevor Lawrence – he left for postseason regular Jacksonville State, where he could play immediately as a dropdown transfer instead of sitting out a season at another FBS school.

EWU quarterback Eric Barriere is a different case.

Barriere – Rivals.com’s 99th-ranked overall athlete for the 2016 recruiting class – was one of California’s premier high school quarterbacks, but at 5-10, few big schools showed interest.

Now, like Cooper, Barriere is one of 25 players on the Payton watch list, given to the best offensive player at the FCS level.

The fleet-footed junior totaled 3,063 yards, 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 10 starts for EWU in 2018, helping the Eagles reach the FCS national title game. Cooper and the Gamecocks fell to Maine in the first round.

Barriere has completed 53 of 81 passes for 733 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions for EWU (1-1) in two games this season.

“Every week he throws the ball as good as he runs it, so he always gives a good look for us (at practice),” EWU defensive end Mitchell Johnson said of Barriere. “It definitely helps (prepare for Cooper).

Jacksonville State (1-1), which has 16 straight winning seasons and a 29-game home winning streak in the regular season, lost at EWU 35-24 in the 2013 FCS quarterfinals.

Gamecocks head coach John Grass, like many, drew comparisons between Barriere and the Eagles’ star quarterback in 2013.

“He makes them go,” Grass said of Barriere. “They don’t have a standout receiver. They’re all really good.

“Very comparable to Vernon Adams. Both of them got wheels, good arms and are accurate.”

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