Anyone expecting Chris Petersen to be stressed or tightly-wound at the start of Apple Cup Week was in for a bit of a surprise.
The fourth-year Washington coach was loose and at times, comical, during his Monday press conference. Petersen was quizzed for more than 25 minutes about a variety of subjects. It took a little time for the discussion to shift to UW’s 5 p.m. Saturday Apple Cup tilt against Washington State at Husky Stadium.
“Yeah, how about that? Imagine that?” Petersen said with a smile.
Petersen’s approach was a bit surprising given Apple Cup Week is easily the most unique week of the season.
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UW usually makes its players available to speak with media on Tuesday and Wednesday. But not this week. The strategy behind it is to both eliminate distractions and avoid giving anyone from WSU the dreaded “bulletin-board material” coaches so often abhor.
There’s also the actual week itself. Petersen and his coaching staff are at a point in the season when the goal is to practice less to keep players fresh near the end of a grueling campaign. Don’t forget the added challenge of trying to enjoy time with family on Thanksgiving while still making any last-minute alterations to the game plan.
Petersen, even with so much going on, had some clever responses. His most memorable quip was about Cougars quarterback Luke Falk. A four-year starter, Falk has come a fixture within the WSU offense and the Pac-12 as a whole.
“Luke Falk has been in that system forever,” he said. “Is he ever going to graduate? He’s been there forever, so, he knows that system inside and out. I think he looks better, more comfortable.”
While Petersen did draw laughs, he still struck a balance between being entertaining and informative.
He spoke about how WSU’s defense, the No. 11 unit in the nation, hasn’t changed its scheme. Petersen said the players within the system have more comfort and its a reason why the Cougars have become a problem for teams this season.
The UW coach was also serious when it came to issues like targeting. Safety Jojo McIntosh was ejected early in the second quarter against the Utah for his hit on quarterback Tyler Huntley. It was determined McIntosh led with his head which led to his early dismissal.
McIntosh’s ejection sent UW fans at Husky Stadium into a frenzy. Soon, video replays of McIntosh’s hit were being debated on social media by college football experts, writers and fans.
Petersen said he understood why the call was made and opened into a bigger picture discussion about making football safer for players.
“I think there’s progress being made for sure,” Petersen said in regards to players learning proper tackling techniques. “You look at the tape and say if something does come up and everybody’s looking at it going, ‘Hey. Pay attention to this. You gotta fix this.’ ”
McIntosh’s loss wasn’t immediately felt but it was in the third quarter when the Utes took a 23-16 lead with 1:37 left from an 11-yard touchdown pass by Huntley to Raelon Singleton.
UW tied it at 23-23 late in the third but Utah took a 30-23 lead when Huntley scored on a five-yard run.
The Huskies, with 58 seconds left, tied the game at 30-30. UW’s defense forced a three-and-out which allowed the offense to take over and drive 51 yards in 29 seconds and set up Tristan Vizcaino’s 38-yard game-winning field goal.
A reporter asked Petersen if it was the most exciting finish he’s been a part of.
“Uh, no,” Petersen said with a bit of a grin. “We’ve had some pretty good ones.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark