Although Washington State quarterback Luke Falk was willing to take the blame last week for the sacks he absorbed against California, Cougars coach Mike Leach this week directed his most pointed comments toward Falk’s bodyguards.
“If you’re going to be an offensive lineman and you’re the toughest unit on the team … go out there and whip the guy across from you, just because you’re tougher than he is,” Leach said. “And if that’s not your mentality, you probably ought to play something else, like Scrabble maybe, or something like that.”
Falk was sacked seven times Saturday at Berkeley, California, as the Cougars blew a 14-point lead and lost 34-28 in their Pac-12 opener against the undefeated Bears.
Washington State (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) faces another conference road test Saturday against Oregon (3-2, 1-1). The Ducks, though unranked, are favored by 17 points.
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Falk, who passed 35-for-49 for 389 yards against Cal despite inconsisent protection, avoided criticizing his linemen during a postgame news conference, and a number of observers have suggested he was lingering too long in the pocket.
“They were just playing tough and playing hard,” Falk said of the Bears. “All sacks are on me. I'll just have to take a look at it. I think I might have been able to avoid a few of those a little bit.”
Leach spoke in level tones this week and was sometimes in a joking mood. But he’s obviously a bit peeved about the Cougars’ season so far.
As for the seven sacks, he attributed two to the reactions of Falk: once because he “held the ball” and once because “he pulled up on a naked play (in which) he’s supposed to roll out.”
“The other ones, I think we got him pressured,” the coach said.
Quarterbacks and linemen “both have a responsibility to not get sacked,” he said. “If you’re a quarterback, get rid of it, sort something out. If you’re an offensive lineman … Let’s say the quarterback holds the ball. Well, why was it your guy that sacked him? The other four guys didn’t sack him. Why did your guy get there first?”
All five starters returned from last year’s offensive line, and the unit was widely praised for its pass-protection in a win at Rutgers last month. It appears to be the school’s best O-line in several years, but its results were spotty last week.
Leach lauded his defense for “playing hard and running to the ball,” and especially for stopping the Bears in three fourth-down situations.
And yet, “key drives we let them off the hook, just like we did on offense,” he said.
The Cougars, though experienced at receiver, linebacker and other positions, are relying on freshmen at certain key spots on both sides of the ball. Leach is often quick to mention that youth factor, but his tone this week was less forgiving.
“I think we practice hard, I think we play hard,” he said. “But then in our case I think we really need to pay attention to detail. I mean, all this business, well, somebody has only started for a year, or he’s a young fellow. Well, forget that. … It’s a blessing and a privilege to play early and to have the opportunity to do those things. Well, now act like you belong there. Now focus like you belong there.”
SATURDAY: WSU (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) at Oregon (3-2, 1-1), 3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks, 710-AM