Falk withstands spate of drops by WSU WRs

PULLMAN— The thick fog may have blurred the vision of those watching WSU's 44-17 loss to the Trojans on Saturday but the reason for WSU's receiving drops was clear as day to Mike Leach. He called them mental mistakes, and he was absolutely certain they were not the fault of backup quarterback Luke Falk.

“They were drops,” Leach said emphatically with wide eyes. “They hit guys right in the chest, hands and guts. If they were bullets, they would have killed them.”

Vince Mayle, pictured above, had nine catches for 83 yards to make him the 11th WSU receiver all-time to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season. But he also had multiple drops, some on what looked to be perfect passes. The most glaring was a pass in the end zone with no one within five yards of him. Falk but the ball on his hands but it inexplicably squirted away and out of the back of the end zone.

Leach said Falk played better than he thought he would, but Falk took some of the blame for the loss after the game.

“Ultimately my job is to get us in the end zone and I failed to do that a few times tonight. I’ve got to be better,” Falk said.

Tyler Baker, who tied for the game high in reception with Mayle, praised Falk for coming in the way he did and how he handled himself on the field.

“I think Luke came in and did a great job and I’m really proud of him,” Baker said. “I think some guys around him could have stepped up and done better, myself included.”

Running back Theron West contributed 201 all-purpose yards (41 yds. rushing, 91 receiving, 69 KO returns) but WSU could put up only 17 points on the day. West came into the game with seven rushing attempts for 31 yards and five catches for 20 yards.

“It was pretty awesome to get back on and get back in the groove," said West. "It was pretty fun -- just laying it on the line for the guy next to you is always awesome."

Falk completed 38 of 57 passes for 370 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

“I just play the next play, and I just focus on doing my job, laying it on the line for the guy next to me, and playing football and having fun with one of my brothers,” West said. “If that’s what helped him, then I’m excited and happy I was able to do so.”

On a night where their leader and fifth-year senior QB Connor Halliday went down with what is being reported as a broken fibula, the Cougars could not rally as USC's offense pulled away from the Cougar D in the second half.

Center Sam Flor started for the Cougars in place of Riley Sorenson and said he was at fault for the hit that knocked Halliday out of the game and likely ended his WSU season and career. Flor said he felt “awful,” and that the hit was completely on him -- although that certainly wasn't true.

On the play, Flor was engaged on his man when a second Trojan, Leonard Williams, stunted around the two. Flor disengaged and got a piece of Williams but he got to Halliday just after the senior let fly. Halliday was turning away from the impending contact and his leg got caught underneath the defender. Halliday's final pass was a 14-yarder to Mayle that gave the Cougs a first down on third-and-six.

“Whatever happens the rest of the year, Luke stepped up and played really well tonight," said Flor. "We all trust Luke and have confidence in Luke, too."

WSU's special teams, in what has been a recurring issue, again gave up a touchdown, this time on a punt return early in the first quarter for a 7-0 Trojan lead.

Cornerback Daquawn Brown said a subsequent deep pass to Nelson Agholor that ignited the Trojans’ offense was a case of bad eyes. The entire defense bit on the play-action, Brown said.

With USC up 14-0, the Cougars found a little rhythm on defense and prevented the Trojans from scoring for a time equal to about a quarter of play -- from 10:33 remaining in the first quarter to 10:37 left in the second quarter.

“During that time, we just had the momentum. We had the swagger, we had the juice basically,” Brown said. “We had everything we needed at that point, and we weren’t blowing coverages. We were just playing football, flying around and trying to get the ball back for the offense. It was fun.”

The fun didn't last. WSU's offense couldn't take advantage and didn't get on the board until Falk completed a nine-yard pass to Robert Lewis to make the score 24-7. A sparse student section thinned out further at halftime.

“If the crowd is going to be there, they’re going to be there. We’ve got to still do us, whether there was nobody in the crowd or whether it was sold out. We’ve got to play, and won’t blame that on anybody but us. We can’t make excuses at this point,” Brown said.

The Cougars never got closer than 14 points, with the drops playing a central role. The start of the second half was representative of what ailed WSU: Falk threw a deep pass to Rickey Galvin for 27 yards. From there, the Cougars went backward, literally, as Jamal Morrow lost six yards and Falk was sacked for a loss of nine more.

There was a time when the Cougars looked as though they were in this game, particularly during the aforementioned stretch in the first and second quarters and when they pulled to within two scores with 6:10 remaining in the third quarter.

But USC was the one who seized momentum instead, and the game spiraled out of control as the fog continued to thicken and obscure WSU's 2014 bowl hopes once and for all as the Cougs fell to 2-7.

  • Connor Ennis would seem to be the backup to Falk although Leach would not confirm that in his press conference after the game. Ennis has played in practice in Thursday Night Football behind Falk and Peyton Bender, a true freshman who is redshirting this season. Ennis is a walk on redshirt freshman out of Washington D.C.

  • Safety Darius Lemora led the Cougars with 10 total tackles. Brown had seven sticks, five of which were solo. Jeremiah Allison and Peyton Pelluer had six and five total tackles, respectively. Allison's were all solo stops, and he recorded a sack as well.

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