University of Washington

UW defense sees ‘unbelievable opportunity’ against Luke Falk, WSU’s offense

Washington State’s Gabe Marks (9) runs with the ball as Washington’s Sidney Jones defends in last year’s Apple Cup in Seattle. The Cougars will have QB Luke Falk in this year’s game; the Huskies don’t seem too bothered by that.
Washington State’s Gabe Marks (9) runs with the ball as Washington’s Sidney Jones defends in last year’s Apple Cup in Seattle. The Cougars will have QB Luke Falk in this year’s game; the Huskies don’t seem too bothered by that. AP file, 2015

Jimmy Lake does not want to hear about Washington State being shorthanded during last year’s Apple Cup game.

Washington’s defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator is a polite, friendly guy. And so it was with a polite, friendly tone that he balked a little bit on Tuesday when asked about UW’s 45-10 victory over the Cougars last season, and the asterisk assigned to that result by fans who believed the win was aided by the absence of injured WSU quarterback Luke Falk.

It will be different this year with Falk actually healthy and playing, yes?

“This will be our second time going against Luke,” Lake noted. “Two years ago in Pullman, we went against Luke. So we’ve already faced him before. That was when all of our DBs were freshmen, and he was a freshman, so this will be the second time we’ve faced him.”

OK, sure, but certainly Falk is a different player now than he was in 2014, when he filled in for injured starter Connor Halliday and the Huskies bullied their way to a 31-13 Apple Cup victory at Martin Stadium.

“And so are we,” Lake countered, noting that UW’s two all-Pac-12 defensive backs, Sidney Jones and Budda Baker, have changed a bit since then, too. “Sidney’s different, and so is Budda.”

With UW and WSU players off-limits to media interviews this week, this is the closest thing you’re going to get to rivalry-week banter. The Huskies are obviously tired of hearing about how they only routed WSU last season because Falk didn’t play. The good news for them, then, is that they have an opportunity on Friday to kill that storyline in one of the most meaningful Apple Cup games in the history of the 109-year series.

The matchup will be strength against strength, Falk and WSU’s prolific passing offense against Jones, Baker, Kevin King and a UW secondary that rates among the nation’s best.

Falk is tied for the national lead in completion percentage at 71.4, and only two other quarterbacks have attempted more passes than him this season. He has thrown 36 touchdown passes, third-most in the country, and only seven interceptions. But he wasn’t as efficient last week against a Colorado team that leads the Pac-12 in pass defense efficiency, completing 26 of 53 passes for 325 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

The Huskies, meanwhile, rank 18th nationally in passing efficiency defense, and have intercepted more passes (13) than they have allowed passing touchdowns (12). They hope to be at full strength; sophomore safety Jojo McIntosh missed last week’s game against Arizona State due to an undisclosed injury, though UW coach Chris Petersen said this week he is “still hopeful” McIntosh can play Friday.

“Our guys can’t wait,” Lake said. “This is such an unbelievable opportunity for us. Defensive backs, of course we like to stop the run and do all that, but we really want the ball thrown. That’s what we want.

“…We know they’re going to throw it 50-plus times. It’s going to be a challenge. But that’s exactly what defensive backs want. We have that mentality that we want the ball thrown, and we want the opportunity to make plays.”

Last year, the Huskies held WSU backup quarterback Peyton Bender to 288 yards passing on 56 attempts, with one touchdown, two interceptions and two lost fumbles. The Cougars committed seven total turnovers. Three were returned for touchdowns.

A few days later, Lake said in an interview with KJR 950-AM that WSU’s offensive system was like “basketball on grass,” and said it does not qualify as “tough, hard-nosed football.”

A reporter ran those remarks, now nearly a year old, past WSU coach Mike Leach on Tuesday.

His reply, per the Spokesman-Review: “I don’t care what he thinks.”

Christian Caple: 253-597-8437, @ChristianCaple

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