The statement qualified as an insult, even if it went mostly unnoticed and happened almost a year ago.
During an appearance on KJR 950 radio’s Softy Mahler show, days after Washington’s 45-10 win in last year’s Apple Cup, Washington defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake took a dig at Washington State’s Air Raid offense.
Receivers were “tip-toeing across the field,” Lake said. “The system wasn’t going to change. What I did see were some nervous receivers going across the middle, some nervous receivers going downfield. I did see that, after they got hit a few times.”
Granted, it was far from a vicious verbal jab. And it came after WSU coach Mike Leach said post-game the Cougars “beat teams that were considerably better than Washington” earlier in the year.
Since no players from No. 6 UW and No. 23 WSU were available to the media before Friday’s Apple Cup in Pullman (12:30 p.m., FOX), which will decide the Pac-12 North champion, Lake’s year-old comment must serve as this year’s trash talk.
Following Tuesday’s practice, a reporter asked Leach about Lake’s shot.
“I don’t care what he thinks,” Leach snarled.
Leach had reason to be testy. The Huskies (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) outscored the Cougars 76-23 the past two Apple Cups. He’s 1-3 against the Huskies at WSU, his only win coming in 2012 when the Cougars rallied from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit and won in overtime against the Huskies coached by Steve Sarkisian.
Last year, Falk missed the annual cross-state rivalry game with a concussion. Backup QB Peyton Bender (no longer with the program) was annihilated in his first career start. The Cougars turned the ball over seven times. UW’s defense scored three touchdowns.
In 2014, Falk, then a backup, played poorly in place of an injured Connor Halliday, out with a broken leg, in the Huskies’ 31-14 win in Pullman.
Lake wasn’t impressed with the offense.
“They try to make it basketball on grass, kind of throwing the ball around like it’s 7-on-7. And that’s not what football is,” he told Mahler. “Football is hard-nosed, tough-nosed . . . You got to expect to get hit. You’re going to get hit. If you throw the ball that many times a game, you’re going to get hit . . . I’m sure on Saturday morning they felt who was the more physical team.”
Lake backed away from his comments in an interview this week, referring to Leach’s scheme as “genius.”
“There’s no mistaking that this is an excellent offense,” Lake said, according to The (Tacoma) News Tribune. “It’s very, very challenging, they put a lot of pressure on people, and it’ll be a challenge for us.”
Leach and Petersen had only nice things to say about each other during their Monday press conferences.
“Like a lot of us, I grew up with my parents saying ‘Why can’t you be more like a guy like Chris Petersen?’” Leach said.
“Usually everything he says, I’m laughing at,” Petersen said.
No need to stoke emotions for the most meaningful Apple Cup since 1981, when a Rose Bowl berth was at stake for both teams. UW beat WSU 23-10 in Seattle. The Cougars went on to lose the Holiday Bowl to BYU, while the Huskies trounced a favored Iowa team in the Rose Bowl.
It took 35 years return to a scenario where so much is on the line for both schools. The Huskies can likely earn a spot in the College Football Playoff with a win Friday and in the Pac-12 title game.
The Cougars would earn a trip to the Rose Bowl with two more wins.
Leach went full Petersen mode when asked about the rivalry, downplaying the notion that “everybody hates everybody.”
“If there is, then we’ve been cheating ourselves up to this point,” Leach said. “If everybody’s doing their best, you should (play) your best as often as possible. It’s not going to be perfect. Everybody’s going to get slightly distracted . . . There shouldn’t be anything held back. It’s not like there’s some warehouse where you break it out on occasion. It should be every time, otherwise you diminish your ability to develop skills over time.”