This is the first of eight WSU Cougars football position previews. Today: Quarterbacks. Next: Running backs
PULLMAN – Luke Falk has not changed much since the start of last season, although he says he is a little faster.
A couple added pounds are not going to change his game any, and he still has the same aversion to post-practice interviews.
Maybe there is a bit more baritone in his voice, however.
Falk had a heck of a first season as the starting quarterback. He was named first team All-Pac-12, was named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week three times and set a school record for passing touchdowns (38).
More importantly, he led the Cougars to a 9-4 record, engineering three last-minute drives to produce wins.
That alone should give him a little more authority among his teammates. So, too, should the passage of time.
“It happens a little before a year,” Mike Leach said. “Just by position they’re allowed to talk to the team. The same thing happens with middle linebackers after they’re accustomed to making the calls and saying it, they’re a little more vocal after that.”
The Cougars are set at starting quarterback. By default, they’re set at backup as well. After a robust position battle in the spring between Peyton Bender and Tyler Hilinski, Bender was found to be academically ineligible to play the upcoming season and subsequently transferred.
The good news is Hilinski has had a great preseason, and seems to have for the most part eliminated the turnover issues that plagued him in the spring. That’s particularly important, because history indicates Hilinski is likely to take some meaningful snaps for the Cougars. Pac-12 quarterbacks frequently miss at least a few plays due to injury, and that has been the norm for the Cougars in recent season.
Expect Hilinski to get ample playing time should the Cougars amass any big leads this season, both to get him game experience and to protect Falk from taking needless hits in a blowout. Hilinski is also the most athletic quarterback currently on the WSU roster.
Of course, sometimes even more than a backup is needed. Who can forget 2008, when Kevin Lopina, Gary Rogers and Marshall Lobbestael were all injured, prompting then-coach Paul Wulff to hold open tryouts to add arms to the team?
Had Bender been able to play for WSU this season, Hilinski or he would have been the natural third-string quarterback. With him gone the position is in flux.
In June the Cougars added a junior college quarterback, Anthony Gordon, to their 2016 recruiting class. Gordon was the California Community College Athletics Association Offensive MVP. Because he was a full qualifier out of high school, he was able to enroll at WSU after only one year at junior college and still has a redshirt year available.
The Cougars added another transfer, walk-on Trey Tinsley, and the two are currently splitting reps.
Tinsley currently has a better command of the offense, though Leach speaks highly of Gordon’s intangibles.
“You hope you don’t miss on guys when you bring them in, and we like what we see,” said outside receivers coach Dave Nichol, who works with the quarterbacks during practice. “It’s one of those deals just yet physically with a quarterback, you’ve got to get them in a bunch of scrimmages and see a bunch of live throws. But the stuff we’ve seen so far, I’ve been impressed with them.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.