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Luke Falk’s escapability not up to the Khalil Tate standard, but it was key in WSU’s Homecoming win

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk (4) runs the ball against Colorado during the first half of a college football game on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – To put Luke Falk’s recent rushing exploits into context, what Washington State’s quarterback did Saturday night, rushing for 41 yards in four quarters, might merely be considered a nice pickup by the next quarterback the Cougars have to play.

In 24 starts for WSU, Falk had never exceeded 40 yards on the ground in a single game. Arizona’s Khalil Tate, meanwhile, reeled off three runs of 47 yards or longer in his first start earlier this season against the same Colorado team that came to Pullman a few days ago.

Falk also ripped off the longest single run of his WSU career – which now encompasses 38 total games – when he scrambled for 16 yards in the second quarter on Saturday. In Tate’s three starts, the dynamic sophomore QB has already logged 14 rushes of 16 yards or more – and he’s bound to have a few more when Arizona (5-2, 3-1) hosts WSU (7-1, 4-1) this Saturday in Tucson (6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).

So you might not call Falk fleet-footed just yet.

“(Coach Mike Leach) did call me the slowest quarterback in the country at one time,” Falk said, laughing at his own expense after the Colorado game.

Still, it might have been difficult for the Cougars offense to move the ball on a rain-soaked, wind-blown night in Pullman had Falk not chosen to call his own number on a few occasions in the 28-0 win. Falk actually ran for 56 gross yards, though 15 of those were chopped off because of his two sacks.

“I feel like he thought he was Khalil Tate a little bit, trying to make the long runs,” Jamal Morrow said. “It was great to see him get loose a little bit, finally. Instead of going backward, going forward.”

It’s tough to nitpick a player who, with a few more flings of the right arm, will become the Pac-12 Conference’s all-time leader in passing yards, but WSU fans, and coaches at times, have been calling for Falk to be more decisive in the pocket this season.

That could mean delivering the ball into tighter windows, but Falk often isn’t one to take the risk – one of the reasons he owns one of the best touchdown-to-interception ratios out there (22-7). It could mean more throwaways, which WSU’s QB generally avoids. Or it could mean just taking off. Falk chanced it on Saturday and rushed for positive yards on seven different occasions. He only went backward twice.

Still, the Cougars have given up more sacks than anyone else in the FBS this season (34) and Falk’s scrambling probably prevented that number from ballooning to 37 or 38 on Saturday.

“If the quarterback ever gets hit, the linemen ought to take it personally. I mean how can you not?” Leach said. “They say, ‘Well, he held the ball.’ OK, let’s say he held the ball for 10 seconds, why was it your guy that hit him. Why wasn’t it their guy?”

Falk perhaps made them look better than they would have otherwise on Saturday. He had two runs of five yards or longer in the first quarter, then ripped off the 16-yard gainer in the second quarter to set up a 50-yard touchdown pass to Tay Martin on the very next play. Falk’s next run went for eight yards and helped the Cougars move closer to midfield on another drive in which they’d end up scoring. He broke off a first down by running for nine yards in the third quarter and legged out a six-yarder just three plays later.

“As teams are playing a bunch of man coverage and stuff, I think there’s just natural space there that we can capitalize on,” Leach said. “If they’re going to blitz and play man, then you’ve got a bunch of room.”

Leach still wouldn’t take his quarterback over most in a 40-yard dash and characterized Falk as a “garden variety drop back quarterback” who’s a “4.9 (40) guy.”

The WSU coach says he’s come across plenty of pocket passer prototypes who “shamelessly lie” about their 40-yard dash times.

“The guy was on a diet, had track shoes and somebody with an accommodating stopwatch and says he runs 4.6,” Leach said. “No, you’re a 4.9 guy. The greatest pocket passers in the history of America, they’re 4.9 guys.”

Asked if Falk could beat out WSU’s 6-5, 306-pound starting left tackle, Andre Dillard, in the 40, Leach gave the nod to the offensive lineman without hesitation.

“I think I’d bet on Dillard,” Leach said.