Falk’s legs are what's making Air Raid hum

PULLMAN - There is something noticeably different about WSU’s Air Raid these last two games. Freshman quarterback Luke Falk has taken over the Pirate’s ship and the new kid on the block is using his feet to roil the waters around the opposing defense. Indeed, Falk used his legs as the tipping-point, extra weapon to lead the Cougs to their upset win in Corvallis.

Falk in his second game, and first start, seemed especially comfortable moving around in the second half of last weekend’s 39-32 win in Corvallis.

I doubt WSU’s freshman signal-caller will be mistaken for Russell Wilson anytime soon, but the mobile edge he possesses that Connor Halliday did not gives him more of an opportunity to make positive things happen after the play breaks down -- and without having to force the ball into coverage.

Halliday had come into his own this year. Actually it began in the latter half of 2013. But from a career perspective, untimely turnovers and roll-your-eyes-worthy sacks were Halliday’s biggest undoing in the win/loss category during his four years of playing time. If the next WSU quarterback, be it Falk or Peyton Bender, can find a way to limit those momentum-shifters, it won’t just show up on the offensive side of the ledger - the defense will benefit too. That conversation is for another time though.

Rick Neuheisel pointed it out emphatically on a Pac-12 Networks preseason show with Halliday - the most productive way for passing quarterbacks to avoid turnovers is by using their legs when nothing is open downfield. It’s coach-speak for “take what the defense gives you” and if you look at college (and even pro) game of today, the most successful quarterbacks “attack” defenses in this way, with their legs. Halliday put up a ton of yards, and he deserved to win more football games than he did. Still, the inability to sustain that drive the Cougs just had to have, and scoring touchdowns in the red zone, were a puzzle he never quite solved. The reason for both boils down to this: he was one-dimensional in his ability to attack.

Alex Brink nailed it a few weeks ago, noting that Halliday didn’t step up in the pocket when facing pressure. He didn’t use his legs in the right way. Too many times he retreated, or went side-to-side, into a worse situation.

Falk on the other hand has been stepping confidently up in the pocket. Granted, it’s too small a sample size to make any definitive judgments on Falk. But he has attacked the defense in just the right way with his feet, threatening and challenging linebackers to respect his ability to run.

“(Falk’s) very good at buying time in the pocket and very good at deciding when to take off. That’s really more important than being a fast guy. There’s a lot of fast guys that are bad at it and Luke by quarterback standards is kinda medium speed. But he’s really good at his pocket presence,” said Leach after the win over OSU.

And there’s nothing better for a passing offense than indecisive and panicky linebackers covering your receivers. Many a time against the Beavs, that very indecision led to an easy dump-off for Falk that kept the Cougars moving forward.

Take two touchdown passes by Falk at Oregon State, one in each half. Both were in the red zone. On each, Falk faced immediate pressure but rolled out and stepped up as if to run, forcing a linebacker to step up with him. The throws that followed were fairly simple based on spacing, hitting Isiah Myers in the front of the end zone and Dom Williams in the back of the end zone.

Those were plays that in the past haven’t resulted in six points for the Cougs.

All of this also helps the ball-control portion of WSU’s offense because it thins out the all-or-nothing drives the Cougs have been faced with so often these past three years. It can ultimately expand the offense – the Cougs can become more dynamic on first down and Leach also will not need to bank so much on the screen game to move the chains.

No, I wouldn’t expect to see too many designed quarterback draws or read options in the near future. But take some shots down the field early on downs and get after the defenses? Yes, I can see that.

Falk is far from perfect and still has a lot to learn as a quarterback, he doesn’t get through his reads as quickly as Halliday did this season but you simply can’t argue with a 70-percent completion rate from a second-year freshman against two of the better pass defenses the Pac-12 has to offer in his first two games. Seven touchdowns to one interception is very good, and it becomes downright great when you consider that lone pick was a Hali Mary thrown up for grabs at the end of a half that he wouldn’t have tossed otherwise.

Much of Falk’s success these first two games has come because he is using his legs wisely. He now faces his biggest test of his young career on Saturday -- an ASU defense that blitzes constantly.

Cougfan Top Stories