The Cougar rebound: Notebook from Corvallis

CORVALLIS – No one seemed to notice Saturday, but the Cougars became the first team in Pac-12 history to throw 40 touchdown passes in a season. Four teams had thrown 39.

The Cougars continue to lead the nation by a wide margin in passing yards (4,776), completions (438) and attempts (646). WSU is on pace to break year-old conference records in all three categories, including Oregon State’s 4,844 yards and WSU’s 470 completions and 756 attempts.

The NCAA Record Book does not list major-college records for team completions and attempts in a season. The NCAA does list per-game records in both categories, and WSU’s completions per game (43.8) and attempts per game (64.6) are higher than the respective records of 41.9 and 63.1. Leach’s Texas Tech team recorded the 41.9 completions in 2007.

Even the Cougars can’t break the single-season records of 6,301 passing yards (Houston, 1989) and 62 touchdown passes (Hawaii, 2006).

THE ONLY PERSON who seemed underwhelmed by Luke Falk’s numbers was a young man by the name of Luke Falk.

“The only number I wanted to put up is the one win. It’s the most important stat,” the redshirt freshman quarterback said after Washington State's 39-32 win over Oregon State on Saturday at Reser Stadium.

Eyes tend to glaze over and minds become numb when passing stats are analyzed on a Mike Leach-coached team, but Falk’s performance ranks among the greatest in WSU history. The fact that it came in his first start makes his numbers – and those of injured comrade Connor Halliday -- even more impressive.

Falk’s five touchdown passes were just one shy of the school record held by Halliday (three times) and Jason Gesser. Falk’s 471 passing yards left him five short of the top 10 in WSU history. His 44 completions (a stadium record) rank fourth among Cougars – Halliday has the top three marks, including the record of 58 – and his 61 attempts are one shy of the top 10. Nine of the top 10 attempts marks belong to Halliday (Drew Bledsoe stands sixth at 66), including the major-college record of 89.

Leach said the Beavers’ defense “ran a ton of stuff” at Falk to try to rattle the youngster, but the Logan, Utah, native threw no interceptions and completed 72.1 percent of his passes. Teammates and Leach complimented Falk on his play, poise and play-calling. Not necessarily in that order.

“He’s got a calmness about him on the field,” Leach said.

“Luke’s a very confident person,” center Riley Sorenson said. “Almost to a fault (he’s) trying to check to a run whenever he can. Connor kind of struggled with that.”

Leach added, “There was a series where I thought he missed several reads, but he went ahead and scored anyway. We took the scenic route, basically.”

Sorenson said the Cougars want “to honor” Halliday by finishing the season with a three-game winning streak. At the same time, Sorenson sounds eager to move forward with Halliday’s replacement.

“There’s some plays that Conner can make that Luke can’t,” Sorenson noted, “and there’s some plays that Luke can make that Conner can’t.”

HALLIDAY WATCHED SATURDAY'S GAME game on television while recovering from surgery back home in Spokane, and the senior – who has yet to be made available to the media since his injury -- was quick to fire off a Twitter message to Falk after the game.

“Luke Falk congrats to you bro,” the tweet reads. “In your first start played tough as freaking nails! So proud, and so happy for you.”

Falk’s ability to play so well in his first start is a testament to his talent and hard work. It’s also a testament to Leach’s offense and the coaching staff’s ability to teach that scheme to players.

Wide receiver Tyler Baker is another prime example. The redshirt junior has tied for the team lead with nine catches each of the past two games, even though he’s a walk-on who had just five catches before last weekend. The former Mississippi redshirt never played a down in college until this season.

“I knew this (his playing time) would happen eventually,” Baker said.

“Baker’s doing some good things,” Leach said in a masterful understatement.

Baker said he benefited from staying after practice to catch passes from Falk when the two were seeing little action on game days.

“I think it really helped our chemistry,” Baker said.

“Tyler’s a great player,” Falk said. “He’s been working his butt off. All these guys have. It’s a great group to have around. I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else.”

WSU SENIOR WIDE RECEIVER Isiah Myers is tied for second in the nation with 11 touchdown catches. Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins has 13.

Six players are tied for seventh in Pac-12 history with 14. The conference record is 18 (Mario Bailey, Washington, 1990); the school record is 13 (Jason Hill, 2005).

Vince Mayle, another senior wideout with the Cougars, ranks third nationally with 86 receptions and fourth with 1,152 receiving yards. He’s approaching the top 10 in conference history in both statistics. Mayle broke Marquess Wilson’s school record of 82 on Saturday, and he’s got a shot at Wilson’s school record of 1,388 receiving yards. Both marks were set in 2011.

NOTABLE:
Rahmel Dockery, a Tacoma native who left WSU without playing a game because he wanted to play wide receiver instead of cornerback, made his first college start Saturday and burned the Cougars for a 49-yard catch on the first play from scrimmage. It was, however, Dockery's only catch of the game. He also had one punt return for two yards. Former WSU verbal commit Connor Hamlett capped the opening drive with a 14-yard touchdown catch. Hamlett, a senior tight end from Edmonds, is the brother of former Cougars defensive end Casey Hamlett.

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