No. 16 Washington shows again how to ground the “Air Raid”
PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — When Washington co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake started his week of prep for facing Gardner Minshew and Washington State, he noticed the same foundational plays and concepts he’s seen since arriving with the Huskies five years ago.
Even with a new quarterback, an improved run game and some different pass catchers, it was still the same.
“Exactly the same. It makes it really easy for us,” Lake said. “Maybe next year he’ll throw a little curve ball, but this makes it very easy when you know what you’re going to get. It’s awesome.”
In a way, there’s no easier week of preparation for Lake and his defense. They have solved Mike Leach and his “Air Raid” offense and it was shown again in Washington’s 28-15 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup that put the Huskies into the Pac-12 title game against Utah.
The win in the snow on Thursday was Washington’s sixth straight over the Cougars. For Lake and head coach Chris Petersen they’ve been part of the last five, and in each of those, the Huskies have held Washington State to 17 points or less.
A week after Washington State scored 69 points and had 605 yards in beating Arizona, the Cougars were suffocated by Washington’s defense yet again.
“They do the same thing year in and year out. This is five years in a row now. So it makes it really easy to game-plan when an offense does the same thing every year,” Lake said late Friday night. Obviously now with the conditions and they can only do one thing — that handcuffs you a little bit. So it was definitely to our advantage and we took advantage of it.”
Certainly the unfavorable conditions that blanketed the turf of Martin Stadium played a major role in the inability of Washington State’s offense to move the ball with the same potency as it had shown all season. Throws beyond 10 yards downfield were scarce because footing was a challenge for receivers to completely run their routes. That meant nearly everything Minshew threw was underneath and why running backs James Williams and Max Borghi had a combined 14 catches.
When Minshew did find his targets, Washington was exceptional at making tackles in space and for the most part not letting those short passes turn into long gains.
“We have to tackle. We have to hit we have to get pass breakups and we have to get interceptions. And we checked the boxes on all those,” Lake said. “That’s exactly what we have to do. We’ve done it now. We’ve shown the recipe and we’ve got great highlights for five years now. We showed those all week long. ... It is surprising it is the same thing over and over but our guys got the game plan and they went out and executed. This offense tries to make you soft by spreading you out and that’s what we’ve not allowed our defense to do.”
For Lake, the ability to shut down Leach’s offense has become almost personal. He didn’t refer to the Washington State coach by name and his players noticed a bit of a difference in the days leading into the game. Perhaps it’s because Lake has prided himself on developing elite secondary players during his time at Washington and facing the Air Raid is possibly the ultimate challenge.
Whatever the reason, that’s five straight years of proving it’s possible to stymie the Cougars.
“Coach Lake has a sneaky good game plan when we play these guys,” Washington linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven said. “He knows what he’s doing and that guy, he puts in so much time behind the scenes. Everyone knows coach Lake is a great coach but no one really knows.”