Cougars’ coach Leach conceded that quarterback Luke Falk could have avoided two of the sacks, but he challenged the offensive line to take more pride in winning one-on-one battles.

Share story

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk assumed total responsibility for the amount of time he spent on the ground during the Cougars’ defeat to Cal last week.

“A lot of those sacks were on me. I think I could have avoided them,” said Falk, who was sacked a season-high seven times by the Golden Bears.

The quarterback did his best to deflect blame from his offensive line, but as the Cougars prepare to face Oregon this weekend, Washington State coach Mike Leach pulled no punches when he called out his offensive linemen and challenged them to raise their level of play.

Leach conceded that Falk could have avoided two of the seven sacks by getting rid of the ball quicker. But he reserved much of his ire for the offensive line, a unit that in the preseason was touted by some as the best in the Pac-12.

Those expectations stemmed from the fact that WSU returned every lineman listed on last season’s two-deep roster, and the line is anchored by left tackle Joe Dahl, a preseason all-conference first-team selection and a likely NFL draft pick.

Tell that to their head coach. Through four games this season, Leach is not impressed.

“Right now, there’s been some positive publicity about our offensive line that currently doesn’t appear to be very justified,” Leach said. “A significant portion of (Cal’s seven sacks on Falk) is I don’t think we played very consistently up front.”

WSU is currently ranked ninth in the Pac-12 with 12 sacks allowed — an average of three per game, slightly above the Cougars’ 2.4 sacks in 2014.

For the second time this season, Leach, a former offensive-line coach, chose not to give out the weekly Bone award, which is generally bestowed upon the offensive lineman who performed best in the previous game.

Leach instead thinks his offensive linemen need to show more grit.

“If you’re going to be an offensive lineman and you’re the toughest unit on the team, you have to be the toughest. Go out and whip the guy across from you because you’re tougher than he is,” Leach said. “If that’s not your mentality, maybe you ought to play something else, like Scrabble, maybe.”

Leach also wants WSU’s big men to take more pride in winning one-on-one battles with the opposing defense.

“Let’s say the quarterback holds the ball. Well, why is it that it’s your guy who sacked him? Four other guys’ (defensive opponents) didn’t sack him. Why did your guy get there first?” Leach said. “There’s a point to where you’ve got to compete in all that.”

The message has been received. WSU’s linemen aren’t pleased with their performance, either.

“We didn’t play good enough (vs. Cal). If we’d played better, things would have turned out differently,” said WSU right guard Gunnar Eklund. “We have to have a better mentality to attack each game. … We just have to come out with the mentality that no one is getting past us five.”

They’ll have to pull out their best game to hold off a Ducks defense that has 10 sacks on the year and is salivating at the thought of picking up where Cal left off.

“Watching the film and seeing that Cal had seven sacks, it gets the guys licking their chops a little bit,” said Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, a versatile pass-rusher who plays every position on the defensive line but will line up mostly across from Eklund this Saturday.

“It’s not that the quarterback was holding the ball,” Buckner said. “It was just the defensive line getting after it the whole game. We just need to get pressure on the quarterback; that’s what Cal did.”