PULLMAN – Mike Leach knelt beside his injured quarterback on Saturday and tried to comfort and relax Connor Halliday, because what else was there to do?
The pain of a broken leg was enough for Halliday to contend with without the added anguish thoughts of loss and unfairness and the sudden uncertainty of NFL dreams must have surely provided.
So the best thing the coach could do for his quarterback until the medical cart came to take him to the hospital was calm him down, and he did the best he could.
The rest of the team, meanwhile, had a game to play.
“(The mood) was definitely down,” running back Theron West said. “But you have to pick it up and we’ve got to play the next play.”
And Luke Falk had to get ready. The former walk-on who had only seen action in garbage time of a blowout over Portland State had just a few minutes to warm up to face a USC defense and mentally prepare himself to be the starter for the final quarter of WSU’s schedule, and maybe for longer than that.
“He played better than I thought he would,” Leach said of Falk.
It’s likely Leach wasn’t alone in underestimating what the redshirt freshman – who was put on scholarship shortly before the season opener – could do against a Trojans defense that hadn’t given up much even before Halliday went down.
In heavy rain and with struggling receivers, Falk threw for 370 yards in just over three quarters, showing plenty of ability to succeed in Leach’s high-volume passing offense.
If Falk wins the starting job heading into next season, he’ll have the opportunity to start for three-plus seasons at WSU.
The fact that he had a couple of near-interceptions in his first real action against an athletic defense doesn’t indicate any long-term negatives in his game. However, the skill with which he navigated a fierce pass rush and the poise he showed when scrambling for first downs to keep drives alive should be encouraging to his coaches and teammates.
And WSU’s crisis in losing Halliday is Falk’s opportunity to take an insurmountable lead in that oncoming competition and have his play in these final three games demand that he lead the team going forward.
“(The loss is) bad for the bowl game but it’s not bad for the rest of the season,” cornerback Daquawn Brown said. “We can just take this, as I look at it, as a three-game season now.”
Falk will be the man for those three games. Heck, he’s probably going to pass for 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He won’t be better than the guy he replaced, right away, but he can make WSU’s future look a lot brighter by showing how much he takes after Halliday.
“He’s been my mentor here, he’s always been helping me out even when I was a walk-on,” Falk said. “He always took me under his wing and it’s sad to see him go down because he was having such a great season. My thoughts and prayers go out to him because he’s a great guy and I really love him.”
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