Luke Falk played poorly against Boise State, while his backup Tyler Hilinski led the Cougars' miraculous 3OT comeback win. But Falk is still the starting quarterback, Mike Leach says.
Washington State does not have a quarterback controversy.
Even though backup quarterback Tyler Hilinski led three touchdown drives and sparked WSU to its 47-44 win over Boise State in triple overtime last weekend, senior Luke Falk is still the 21st-ranked Cougars’ starter and will start against Oregon State on Saturday, WSU coach Mike Leach said.
“Luke’s playing. Luke’s starting and will continue to play well I’m sure,” Leach said during his weekly press conference.
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Falk is coming off a rough game against Boise State in which he went 24 of 34 for a career-low 193 passing yards, with one interception and no touchdowns. He also exited the game early in the fourth quarter after he took a big hit from Boise State’s Jabril Frazier that drove him into the turf.
Hilinski, meanwhile, went 25 of 33 for 240 passing yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
“He’s had a great debut,” Leach said of Hilinski, a redshirt sophomore. “He played against Arizona (in 2016) and had incredible numbers there, and he had a big one the other night (against Boise State). Learning under Luke has been incredibly beneficial to him and then he’s steadily improved.
But, Leach reiterated his confidence in his senior quarterback Monday, which is significant because this is also the coach who listed Falk and former WSU quarterback Peyton Bender as alternate starters all the way through the 2015 season.
Clearly, Leach isn’t opposed to playing some mind games to try and motivate his players, but in this case, he’s sticking with Falk.
Still, as Leach showed last week against Boise State, when he pulled Falk for the final offensive series of the third quarter, he won’t hesitate to bench the dark horse Heisman hopeful if Falk plays poorly.
“I wanted Luke to see how easy it was out there, which it was, because he tried to do too much,” Leach said, explaining why he benched Falk for a series.
Hilinski had one series that ended in an interception and then Falk went back into the game – only to leave for good after the hit by Frazier.
Falk’s head appeared to hit the turf hard after Frazier tackled him. He was helped off the field and was examined by medical staff in the Cougars’ pop-up medical tent on the sidelines. He eventually re-emerged from the tent and took some warm-up throws, but the Cougars stuck with Hilinski through the rest of the game, which Falk watched from the sidelines, with his helmet on the whole time.
“We held Luke for precautionary reasons of our own that we’re certainly not going to share with you,” Leach said. “And then Tyler played real well.”
Still, Leach said Hilinski isn’t going to get more reps in practice this week than he normally would, another indication that Falk is good to go against Oregon State this Saturday.
That bodes well for both Falk and the Cougars. In three career starts against the Beavers, Falk has thrown for 1,293 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Leach said Falk was too tentative against the Broncos last week.
“I thought he played slow and conservative,” Leach said. “I think he’s got to be more decisive. He wants to overanalyze everything. We’re not looking for a guy who overanalyzes. We’re looking for a guy who executes.
“But the bottom line is our failure to coach him well enough to get the results we want, and that starts with me.”
Falk has started 30 games for WSU in the last three and a half years, and he owns almost every school passing record. Against Boise State, he added the career offensive yardage (11,141) record and career passing yardage (11,397) record to his collection.
Also, it’s worth noting that Leach said last week he’s never used a two-quarterback rotation and doesn’t plan to.
“I always worry it makes a team disjointed,” Leach said last week, “The team adjusts around the leadership of one guy. If you’ve got two quarterbacks that can do two things, you’re asking the team to learn two offenses instead of one.”