. In his three-game audition as Washington State’s starting quarterback last November, Luke Falk threw for, in order, 471 yards, 601 yards and 355 yards.
“That might be some kind of a record, I don’t know,” WSU coach Mike Leach said at Pac-12 media day on Friday. “But I’ll tell you, that’s a pretty good starting point.”
Falk was thrust onto the field after senior Connor Halliday broke his leg against USC on Nov. 1 and played “like he belonged there,” Leach said.
“Even though he’s a youngish guy,” Leach added, “he does as good a job at managing the offensive unit as anybody I’ve dealt with.”
Indeed, Falk seemed to solidify his hold on the Cougars’ starting job during spring drills, Leach said Friday. Leach, however, stopped short of declaring Falk the starter entering fall camp on Aug. 8.
Instead, Falk, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, will continue to compete with freshman Peyton Bender, a redshirt freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to take over the “Air Raid” offense that led the nation with 477.7 passing yards per game, second-most in NCAA history.
“The one thing both of them have that I think is very strong is they stay out of their own way,” Leach said. “They’re not one of those people that dwell on something to the point where they don’t continue to improve, and also they’re very focused workers and learn quickly.”
For as well as Falk played, the Cougars managed to go just 1-3 in November, part of a frustrating 3-9 season.
“Overall, we just underachieved,” senior offensive tackle Joe Dahl said. “It was disappointing because you could see it at times, how talented our team was -- when we were playing Oregon close, when we were playing to our best.”
The Cougars’ offense figures to be portent again with either at quarterback, particularly with a deep group of receivers featuring Dom Williams, River Cracraft, Robert Lewis, Calvin Green and the return of Gabe Marks.
Dahl leads an offensive line that returns all five starters, and he’s optimistic about the Cougars, picked in the Pac-12 media poll to finish fifth in the North.
“I think this year you’re going to see a completely different team, a team that’s completely bought in -- players and coaches,” he said.
Senior linebacker Jeremiah Allison called the transition to new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch “very demanding,” but Allison believes changes will be quick and apparent this season.
Grinch, Allison said, has installed a simpler scheme with two emphases: create turnovers and hustle to the ball.
“If you can do those two things,” Allison said, “you’re all right in his book.”
“All right” would be a fairly dramatic improvement for a WSU defense ranked ninth, 10th and ninth in the Pac-12 during Leach’s first three seasons in Pullman.
Allison wants to be a catalyst for the Cougars’ turnaround.
“We went through our growing pains, we went through our trials and tribulations. Now it’s time to perform,” he said. “The seniors on this team don’t want to go out as a loser. .
“It’s never been a talent thing,” he added.
“Our thing was just the confidence level. We’re always knocking at the door. Now we’ve got to kick it in.”