Jimmy Lake will compete at anything.
Sometimes, Washington’s defensive coordinator will even race his wife home after they meet at a restaurant. His youngest son knows Lake will make it back first so he always climbs into his car. Lake has even been known to cut his wife off with lane changes just so he can pull ahead. And when he wins, he admits to trash talking.
“I’m definitely very competitive,” he said with a grin.
Lake, who also serves as UW’s defensive backs coach, has nurtured an equally competitive mindset in his secondary. The Huskies seem to take it personally, going up against the country’s top passing offenses. They already beat the top-rankd passing offense in Washington State. Rose Bowl opponent Ohio State is No. 2.
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The Buckeyes have Heisman finalist Dwayne Haskins at quarterback. And his receivers include Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill, who have 992 and 831 receiving yards this season, respectively.
Looking at Ohio State’s offense, UW cornerback Jordan Miller doesn’t really see any weaknesses.
“Unlike (Washington State) who had like a little scheme they did against everybody, (Ohio State) does game plan for defenses,” Miller said. “So they will bring something new to the table for us.”
It will be challenge, perhaps the biggest one the Huskies have faced this season.
And the defensive backs can’t wait.
Molding that kind of nature starts with recruiting, Lake said. He sets out to find players that love football as much as he does. When they talk, he wants to be able to feel their passion.
What’s grown from that is a secondary that just seems to reload season after season. That started years ago, Lake said, with current NFL players like Kevin King and Sidney Jones. In those early years, Lake drew a line on a whiteboard and pointed to it.
“And said, ‘OK, this is how we’re playing,’” Lake said. “We’re either playing at this level or higher. And every single year after that, guys really took ownership of playing at a higher level, studying more than the guys before them.”
Safety JoJo McIntosh said Lake is the most competitive person he knows, something he first noticed when he attended Boise State camp as a recruit.
“We were doing one-on-ones against the receivers and he was getting on all of us,” McIntosh said. “We’re not his kids yet but it was competitive. I loved it and I knew I wanted to play for him.”
Cornerback Byron Murphy had a similar experience. As soon as he stepped on UW’s campus, his relationship with Lake was built around competition. And Miller still remembers his first day at fall camp. When another player made a small mistake, Miller was taken aback by the intensity of Lake’s response.
“Just, oh my gosh,” Miller said. “I didn’t expect the reaction that it got out of him.”
Watch Lake on the sideline during games, Miller said, and you can see the kind of intensity he brings to the defense.
“He spazzes sometimes,” Miller said, laughing. “Out on the field … he’s jumping up and down like that. He’s like that in the defensive team meeting room. That’s just how he is.
“At least for me personally, when I do something well on the field or I mess up on the field, the first thing I think is, ‘OK, Coach Lake is going to like that’ or, ‘Oh no.’”
Lake’s personality is always on full display during the Apple Cup. After the Huskies defeated Washington State in November, he didn’t hesitate to offer his opinion on the Cougars’ game plan.
“Maybe next year, they’ll throw us a curveball,” he said then. “It makes it very easy when you know what you’re going to get. It’s awesome.”
Following the Pac-12 championship game win over Utah, both Lake and his players said they had something to prove. The Huskies and Utes have the top two defenses in the conference, and UW wanted to show why it’s No. 1.
UW didn’t allow a passing touchdown against Washington State or Utah. The Buckeyes know what they’ll be facing. And just like the Huskies, they’re looking forward to the challenge.
“It helps us as individuals and as a team to show you can play with the best of the best,” Hill said, “and show you’re up there.”
In Haskins, Lake said the Huskies will “definitely” be going against the best quarterback they’ve faced all season. He called the Buckeyes’ receivers underrated, as good as any group in the country.
“I’ve been seeing those guys in my sleep,” he said.
But every time a reporter brought up Ohio State’s high-powered offense on Saturday, UW’s defensive players just grinned.
Miller said that mindset is set by both Lake and the players he brings into the program. They’re a family. They want each other to do well, but they also want to outdo each other.
The ‘Best Hands’ trophy — awarded three times a year to the player with the most interceptions after spring ball, fall camp and the season — might be the best example of the secondary’s dynamic. Murphy is currently in the lead with four interceptions. But Miller, who has two, said he’s not giving up just yet. He joked that he would just have to get three against Ohio State.
The group thrives, Miller said, precisely because of that balance between competition and support.
“That’s how everyone is connected,” Murphy agreed. “Everyone is competing against each other and then you have a coach that’s competitive. He’s always going to make sure we’re all going against each other and getting better every single day.”