PULLMAN – Jim Mora’s “business trip” to Seattle last weekend was an undeniable success. The UCLA coach returned to the city where he grew up, where he played college football at the University of Washington and coached the Seahawks and left with a 44-30 win over the Huskies.
Mora was a popular candidate to take over the vacant head coaching position at UW last season, but in the week leading up to the game he insisted that the game against UW was “just another game” and that he didn’t have any nonfootball plans in Seattle.
During Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches teleconference he said that those remarks were in response to questions about his interest in leaving UCLA for the opening at UW, and may not have accurately depicted the affection he has for the Pacific Northwest or that he was being insensitive to his history in the region.
“I think some of my answers got misconstrued as to how I feel about Seattle and the University of Washington,” Mora said. “I love Seattle. I spent my childhood years there and went to the University of Washington and almost love my alma mater. But for last week I’m a UCLA Bruin, I’m the football coach here and my goal was to go win a game, so I removed the emotion from it.”
Instead of Mora, the Huskies hired Chris Petersen, the longtime coach at Boise State, who compiled a 92-12 record beating up on inferior foes in the Western Athletic and Mountain West conferences.
The Pac-12 has proved to be a far more difficult landscape to navigate for Petersen, and the UW’s four losses this season already match the most Petersen has suffered in his career.
Boise State was often the only Top-25 team in its own conference but the Huskies have faced a ranked opponent in four of their last five games.
“It is a gauntlet and it’s nothing that I didn’t know we were getting into. I said the second I took this job my life got a lot harder, without question,” Petersen said. “It’s just hard because you play a hard-fought game and you don’t win and the next week you’ve got to come back and reload against a good team and that’s hard.”
Leach says Falk could start for years
The upcoming quarterback competition to see who would replace Connor Halliday as the starting WSU quarterback was supposed to dominate the headlines throughout the spring and the fall.
It might not even happen.
Redshirt freshman Luke Falk certainly looked the part of a multi-year starter on Saturday as he threw for five touchdowns in WSU’s win over Oregon State.
Mike Leach said during Tuesday’s teleconference that Falk’s poise and mental grasp of the game compared to other quarterbacks he’s coached “might be ahead of all of them.”
He even seemed to acknowledge that Falk has made a compelling case to remain the starter after the season, saying, “I think there’s a strong possibility. But nobody’s ever cemented, because we’ve got some very good guys behind him.”
Falk’s primary competition figures to be Peyton Bender, a true freshman that is redshirting this season but has impressed coaches and teammates in practices. Highly-regarded high school recruit Tyler Hilinksi is set to enroll at WSU in January and is expected to compete for the job as well.
Clay’s mistake costly
The Utes did everything they needed to take a 14-0 lead at home over the Pac-12’s best team except finish the play. Receiver Kaelin Clay hauled in what should have been a 78-yard touchdown pass but dropped the ball in celebration before actually crossing the goal line.
Oregon’s Erick Dargan picked up the ball and ran it 100 yards the other way for a touchdown, turning Utah’s two-score lead into a 7-7 tie and erasing any momentum Utah might have gained from the score.
“It was like the air went out of the entire stadium,” coach Kyle Whittingham said.
The Ducks went on to win the game 51-27. Clay didn’t hide from the mistake and took responsibility for the loss after the game.
“He feels bad about it,” Whittingham said. “It was a mistake but he did a lot of good things over the course of the game and he’s been a very good player for us all year long.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.