Chris Petersen’s final game as Washington’s head football coach is set.
UW (7-5) will meet no. 19 Boise State (12-1) in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 21 at 4:30 p.m. on ABC.
And, unsurprisingly, Petersen is more excited about the opportunity than the opponent.
“(I) Love going to Las Vegas,” said Petersen, who served as Boise State’s head coach from 2006 to 2013, in a press conference on Sunday. “Been there a few times and they do a great job and it’s an awesome location for fans. The other thing is just being an early bowl game. Sometimes these things can just drag on for a long time. So it’s one of the rare (early) bowl games. So we’ll go prepare, be ready to play.
“Obviously, personally speaking, there’s a lot of other teams that I’d like to be playing for this last time. But it is what it is, and it’s interesting how sometimes these things work out.”
Petersen — UW’s sixth-year head coach — announced on Dec. 2 that he’ll step down following the Huskies’ bowl game, at which point defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake will be elevated to head coach.
The Huskies entered the 2019 season ranked No. 12 nationally in the coaches poll and No. 13 by the Associated Press, but turned in an underwhelming 7-5 season that included a 4-5 conference record and three losses inside Husky Stadium — where UW had not been defeated in more than two full seasons. Petersen’s team rebounded to clobber Washington State in the Apple Cup, 31-13, picking up its seventh consecutive victory in the series.
Of course, the 12-1 Broncos would present a difficult match up for Washington in any circumstance. But, to muddy the waters even further, Petersen announced on Sunday that junior tight end Hunter Bryant and senior left tackle Trey Adams will not play, presumably to preserve their NFL Draft stock. Petersen said that “certain guys … they got to do what they got to do. That’s all I’ve got to say to that.”
In 12 games this season, Bryant — who announced his decision to declare for the draft on Friday — led the Huskies with 825 receiving yards and added 52 catches, 15.9 yards per reception and three touchdowns. Adams, a fifth-year senior, started all 12 games this season at left tackle.
Petersen added that redshirt junior quarterback Jacob Eason — who also faces an NFL Draft decision — will play. When pressed further on Eason’s future, Petersen said that “those are going to be conversations for coach Lake and him. I’ve had a conversation and all that. But all that stuff’s between Jacob and his family and really coach Lake and those guys.”
Speaking of Lake, Petersen said that he hasn’t passed many head coaching duties to his imminent successor. In fact, because Lake and the rest of UW’s staff have spent much of the last week on the road recruiting, that has allowed Petersen to focus on his current team as well as bowl preparations.
“Those guys are recruiting so urgently that this is kind of how we wanted it,” Petersen said. “They could go recruit, and everything that had to do with the bowl game and practice and all that, I can handle and make sure we’re organized and away we go.
“As soon as signing day is here or we get down there (to Las Vegas) … I think you want the situation to be as normal as possible, even though it’s not completely normal.”
It’s not completely normal because 1.) Petersen has announced his intentions of stepping down following UW’s bowl game, and 2.) said bowl game pits Petersen against his former team. Prior to arriving in Seattle, the Yuba City, Calif., product went 92-12 in eight season’s as Boise State’s head coach, from 2006 to 2013. He also served as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator from 2001 to 2005. The highlight of Petersen’s tenure was a pair of Fiesta Bowl victories, in 2006 and 2009.
UW’s only previous meeting with Boise State during the Petersen Era was a 16-13 Husky defeat in 2015. Washington was actually 2-1 against the Broncos during Petersen’s eight-season stay in Boise, with the lone loss being a 28-26 defeat in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas — now called the Las Vegas Bowl — in 2012.
Whether he likes it or not, this game might as well be renamed the Petersen Bowl.
(And, for the record: no, he doesn’t like it.)
“That’s part of the reason I don’t like that (narrative),” he said. “That’s not what this is about. It’s not even kind of about that. It’s about these players who have worked really hard this season. Boise’s had an unbelievable season again over there, and our guys have been through a lot and grinded through a lot and now we’re going to play a really good team.
“That’s what it should be about, and nothing else.”
• As for a couple stray injury issues, Petersen said that sophomore guard Jaxson Kirkland’s “got a real good shot to play in this game” after missing the Washington State win with a leg injury. The Huskies will continue to be cautious with redshirt freshman linebacker M.J. Tafisi, who left the Arizona win on Oct. 12 on a stretcher after suffering a significant stinger. Petersen said “that’s something that everyone’s trying to go as slow as possible on. There’s plenty of time for him to play football, so we’re going to be really, really smart there.” And though freshman wide receiver Puka Nacua is out of a boot after missing UW’s final four games with a broken foot, the early bowl date “probably makes it tougher” for him to return this season.