WSU Cougars

Peyton Bender could make first career start for WSU in the Apple Cup

So, not a lot of scouting reports floating around about Peyton Bender — who could be making his first career start at quarterback for Washington State in the Apple Cup?

If regular starter Luke Falk is the athletic type, always thinking on his feet, Bender is more of a passer who draws from the holster and fires away.

“Peyton has a very quick, flashy arm,” Cougars coach Mike Leach said. “The ball explodes off his hand.”

Both styles should win lots of games at WSU, says a key wide receiver.

“(Bender) can definitely play,” Cougars receiver Gabe Marks said. “He’s got the talent. You can see he rips it. It is not a matter of if he can do it, it is what will he do when his opportunity comes.”

Bender’s opportunity unexpectedly came midway through the third quarter of the Cougars’ 27-3 victory over Colorado on Saturday night at Martin Stadium.

Falk took a hard hit on a sack by Colorado’s Samson Kafovalu. Falk’s head snapped back so violently against the turf that it left him motionless on his back for several minutes before he was transported off on a cart.

Bender, a redshirt freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, came in and immediately led the offense to a touchdown, tossing a 16-yard score to Marks early in the fourth quarter to give WSU a 24-3 lead.

Bender finished 13 of 22 for 133 yards with the touchdown and an interception in his first extended playing time.

Make no mistake, when Falk makes a big play he lets out a few yelps. When Bender does it, he shows very little, Marks noted.

“With Bender … it’s almost like, ‘Are you ready?’ ” Marks said. “He is always right there. I think that is good — quarterbacks have to be like that (even keel) because everybody is looking at them.”

Last offseason, Leach staged an open competition between Falk and Bender for the starting job.

Up until the final week of fall camp, it was thought to be a neck-and-neck affair — especially after Bender threw six touchdown passes in one of the scrimmages.

But Leach gave Falk the nod — and it was obviously the correct decision since Falk is a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate as the Pac 12’s leading passer.

“It was tough at first,” Bender said. “We had been splitting (repetitions) since spring ball, and I thought … I was going to be the guy.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t. It is all right — the season has been great. Luke is an awesome player, and he has had a great year.”

But with Falk’s status in serious doubt and shrouded in mystery — Leach rarely provides injury updates on his players — Bender could be the guy in the huddle against the Huskies come Friday.

“Thing is, until now really, he hasn’t had a bunch of plays where you can really evaluate and identify what he is able to do,” Leach said. “But he is steadily improving.”

FRIDAY: WSU (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12) at UW (5-6, 3-5), 12:30 p.m., Husky Stadium, Ch. 13, 1000-AM, 710-AM, 97.7-FM

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