Luke Falk has beaten every other Pac-12 team in his record-breaking tenure at WSU. But in Apple Cups, the Huskies have held Falk in check.
“This is our favorite game of the year because anytime an offense, when we know they’re going to throw the ball 60 times, it really makes game-planning easy. They did a better job — they got four more points than they had the last three years. But this is our favorite game of the year, and I hope (the Cougars) continually do exactly what they’re doing because this is an awesome game to play.”
— Jimmy Lake
UW co-defensive coordinator, after 2016 Apple Cup
Washington co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake knows Washington State will be motivated — by a multitude of factors — coming into the Apple Cup on Saturday night.
And Lake knows there’s a good chance Luke Falk will make Washington’s defensive secondary look silly at times. That’s the nature of Washington State’s “genius” offense, as Lake described it.
Lake, indeed, was particularly complimentary of Falk and the No. 14 Cougars (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) on Tuesday, four days before the No. 15 Huskies (9-2, 6-2) are the hosts for 110th Apple Cup.
A year ago in Pullman, Lake rankled some WSU fans when he told The Times that the Apple Cup was the “favorite game of the year” for the UW defense. That was in the moments after UW’s 45-17 victory over the Cougars, which secured the Huskies’ first trip to the Pac-12 title game and got them a step closer to their first College Football Playoff berth.
That UW’s “Death Row” defense has shut down WSU’s “Air Raid” so effectively, so emphatically the past three seasons is a major theme in the buildup to the game this week. Washington is the only Pac-12 team Falk has not beaten in his record-breaking career.
Lake wasn’t much interested in revisiting the Huskies’ previous success against the Cougars.
“Those years are in the past,” he said. “It’s 2017 now and if we don’t execute on Saturday, it’s going to be a hard one on us. All our guys are just preparing right now to try to keep these guys in front of us. We know they’re going to get their yards. They’re going to get their yards. They do every single year. We just have to keep them out of the end zone.”
For the fourth consecutive season, Washington State has the league’s best passing offense. For the second consecutive season, UW has the league’s top-ranked pass defense.
Turnovers have been the key for UW’s defense. Last year, UW intercepted Falk three times, and over the past three Apple Cups the Huskies have a plus-11 turnover margin (14 take-aways vs. three giveaways) against the Cougars. UW has outscored WSU 121-40 in the past three meetings.
The difference this year, in Lake’s eyes, is Falk’s experience.
“Luke Falk has been there for it seems like a decade right now,” Lake said, adding: “I think he’s better. He’s better. … He’s executing this offense flawlessly. He’s gone against us for two years now — this will be his third year, so he’s seen our defense. They’ve got an extra week to prepare for us. This is going to be an uphill battle and a tremendous challenge for our guys.”
Another difference for WSU’s offense this season, as UW coach Chris Petersen noted, is that the Cougars lead the Pac-12 in time of possession, holding onto the ball for 33 minutes, 32 seconds a game. The Huskies, by comparison, rank ninth in the Pac-12 in time of possession at a little more than 29 minutes.
“They do a good job of time of possession because they get third downs, they keep drives alive,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “It’s ball control, high percentage throws, the guys catch it and on third down they do a good job of executing and getting the first down.”
Injuries have hampered UW’s secondary this season. Starting cornerback Jordan Miller (broken ankle) is out for the season, and after two months away redshirt freshman Byron Murphy returned from a broken foot to make his Pac-12 debut in UW’s victory over Utah last Saturday. Murphy, who is playing with a screw in his foot, allowed two touchdown passes against the Utes after not allowing any in his first three games of the season.
The Huskies, the No. 1 defense in college football earlier this month, have been vulnerable on defense the past two games. Before this month, the Huskies had gone nearly two years — 23 games— without allowing 30 points in a single game. Now they’ve allowed 30 points in back-to-back games (the 30-22 defeat at Stanford and the 33-30 victory over Utah).
The Huskies’ defense has excelled at limiting big plays this season, and in the past three Apple Cups in particular. WSU has just four 30-yard pass plays against UW since 2014, and none longer than 39 yards.
• Kwiatkowski and WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch were among the 15 semifinalists for the Broyles Award, presented annually to the nation’s top assistant coach. Five finalists will be selected and invited to travel to Little Rock, Ark., for the award presentation on Dec. 5.