PULLMAN — Washington State receiver Gabe Marks means it as a compliment when he says quarterback Luke Falk isn’t “real pretty.”
It’s his way of saying that the Pac-12’s leading passer is one gritty guy.
“He’s not like a lot of the quarterbacks today, real pretty and stuff like that,” Marks said. “He’s like one of us. He likes to get out there and get dirty with us.”
“I appreciate his comment,” Falk said. “I just want to be here to win.”
He’s certainly accomplishing that. Falk is a big part of the reason that Washington State (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) is on track for a possible bowl game and hanging tough in the Pac-12.
Falk, a sophomore in his first season as a starter, has thrown for 2,371 yards and 21 touchdowns this season with just four interceptions. He leads the conference with 395.2 yards passing per game.
He’s often had to absorb some real punishment while getting to those numbers — hence the talk of toughness.
But after taking 14 sacks combined in a loss to No. 20 California and a win against Oregon, Falk concentrated during last weekend’s Oregon State game on getting the ball out as quickly as possible, sometimes without even getting his hands positioned on the laces.
As a result, he was sacked just twice, despite throwing the ball 50 times.
No longer is Falk “pondering the mysteries of life” when he drops back to pass, coach Mike Leach said.
“He is sorting it out quicker,” Leach said. “It’s helping him quite a bit.”
Last weekend, he tied the school record with six touchdown passes — all in the first half — in the 52-31 demolition of Oregon State.
The 6-foot-4 Falk, a former walk-on, was a backup last year to Connor Halliday and was rushed into action when Halliday broke his leg against Southern California in the ninth game of the 2014 season. In three starts and portions of three other games, the freshman threw for 1,859 yards, with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
There was little doubt who would be the starter when training camp opened this year. He’s been validating that decision by putting the Cougars on track for what would be just their second bowl game under Leach.
The rare 45-38 win at Oregon on Oct. 10 was a particular eye-opener. Falk threw a short touchdown pass to Dom Williams with a second left to tie the game, then ran for a touchdown in the first overtime, and threw for the winning touchdown in the second overtime. He threw for 505 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in that game.
“Since we haven’t beaten those guys for a while meant a lot to the fan base,” Falk said. “I got a few more texts than I usually do after a game.”
Falk appears to buy into Leach’s mantra of focusing only on the next play and not looking down the road at things like bowl games.
That philosophy doesn’t call for looking backward at a successful first half of the season, either.
“You’ve got a few more people patting you on the back,” Falk said. “You’ve got to shut that out. Our goals and aspirations have not been achieved yet. We’ve got a lot more football to play.”