Jimmy Lake and Jonathan Smith have an origin story.
It occurred before Lake’s Huskies beat Smith’s Beavers three consecutive years, from 2018 to 2020; before they shared staffs under Chris Petersen at both Washington (2014-17) and Boise State (2012-13); before Smith even decided to pursue a coaching career.
On Sept. 2, 2000, Lake made his full-time coaching debut overseeing the secondary at Eastern Washington, his alma mater.
His first challenge? Hold down Oregon State quarterback Jonathan Smith.
And, though the Beavs earned an unconvincing 21-19 victory, Smith completed just 13 of 29 passes, throwing for 132 yards and a pair of picks.
More than two decades later, the memory remains.
“We almost beat them, by the way,” Lake said with a smile Monday, telling the story. “I don’t think (Smith) played very well, but (Oregon State running back) Ken Simonton played really well. I think he ran for about 200-something yards in that game. But I think we held the pass game down pretty well that day.”
Indeed, Simonton rushed a whopping 40 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns, almost single-handedly lifting Oregon State. And after narrowly surviving Eastern Washington, the Beavs promptly produced their best season in program history — finishing 11-1 and thumping Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, 41-9.
Smith’s only defeat of the season came on the road at Washington.
Twenty-one years later, there are parallels aplenty. This time, Smith is the one coaching at his alma mater, with Oregon State jumping out to a 3-1 start. The former UW offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has built a dynamic Beavers offense that ranks sixth nationally in red-zone touchdown percentage (84.21%), 12th in yards per carry (5.75), 13th in rushing touchdowns (12), 13th in third-down conversion percentage (53.19%), 17th in rushing (225.75 yards per game) and 24th in total offense (473.3 yards per game).
And, though Simonton is long gone, redshirt junior running back B.J. Baylor (422 rushing yards, 6.9 yards per carry and seven touchdowns in four games) has become a bully for the Beavs.
“He runs hard. He sees the hole and goes,” Lake said. “He played against us last year, but, of course, (Jermar) Jefferson was the starter. Now he seems bigger. He’s getting more reps with the scheme and the offensive line is really jelling well together. So, this will be another game where we have to stop the run or they’ll just keep handing it off.”
Not that they necessarily need to.
Because — no offense to Smith — but these Beavs are much better at quarterback.
In four games and three starts this season, redshirt sophomore Chance Nolan has completed 72.29% of his passes, throwing for 847 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions — while running for 129 yards and 7.2 yards per carry. He ranks fourth nationally in pass efficiency rating (188.59), seventh in yards per pass attempt (11.2) and 11th in completion percentage.
“He’s an impressive quarterback to watch,” Lake said. “You watch his technique, his footwork in the pocket first before he runs … he’s a tall quarterback but he’s got great balance, he moves in the pocket well, which allows the o-line to keep their blocks and he can throw from a clean pocket. And then when the ball comes out of his hand it comes out very effortlessly. He’s very accurate.
“But then the one that kills you is when we have everything covered and then now all of a sudden he gets out of the pocket and starts running. He’s very athletic. This is going to be, two weeks in a row, a big-time challenge for our defense (against a dual-threat quarterback). It causes us a lot of heartache when we have to worry about a quarterback’s legs and his arm.”
The Huskies have had lots of heartache. In UW’s 31-24 overtime victory last weekend, California quarterback Chase Garbers threw for 319 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while scrambling for an additional 71 yards and a score.
Washington’s defense will face a familiar skill set Saturday.
“I wish we would have done better last week against Garbers,” Lake said. “Three years in a row he’s been able to move the chains with his legs. We’re not going to stop him every single time, but he was able to rush for almost 100 yards. That was one of our keys to the game, and we did not get that done, and the game obviously ended up very, very close.
“It helps us (to have already prepared for a dual-threat quarterback), but it’s still a huge challenge. We have to make sure we contain him with our rush. We have to make sure we cover up their receivers so he can’t hurt us with his arm. It’s going to be another difficult challenge for our defense.”
Perhaps not as difficult as the challenge Eastern Washington encountered Sept. 2, 2000, when Simonton ran wild and Smith threw to Oregon State wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
But same as in their origin story, Smith’s offense and Lake’s defense will collide inside Reser Stadium once again.
“Smitty and I are very close,” Lake said. “He knows what I like. I know what he likes. It is definitely a fun competition and I’m expecting he’s going to have an extraordinary plan against us.”