Falk, Bender neck-and-neck for starting job

PULLMAN - Watching Washington State's practice Tuesday, it would be nearly impossible to name a starting quarterback between Luke Falk and Peyton Bender because both looked so comfortable and were incredibly efficient in team drills. They each have different strengths, giving Cougars' coach Mike Leach options come fall.

The coveted position vacated by Connor Halliday has put third-year sophomore Falk and second-year freshman Bender in a head-to-head battle for the starting spot. And despite the three-plus games worth of experience in a live-game situation that Falk has under his belt, the position is far from nailed down. Bender is making the most of his opportunities so far this spring. In the six spring practices thus far, Falk and Bender have split reps during the team scrimmage with Falk following Bender.

After practice, Mike Leach voiced his thoughts about how the two were progressing.

“Bender is really explosive as far as his team period is his best period when he plays really decisive. And then Falk just overall manages the team really well. He is not a guy that really ever hits two bad shots in a row,” Leach said.

As Leach points out, both quarterbacks have strengths in different aspects, which is what makes their battle particularly compelling. During Saturday’s team scrimmage, Falk completed 13 of 13 despite senior linebacker Kache Palacio’s "sack" on Falk’s first snap. On Tuesday, Falk connected on 10 of 16 passes, and seems to have a good thing going with the receiving corps, hooking up on touchdown passes to Gabe Marks, Gerard Wicks and Kyrin Priester. Falk also excelled in the red zone situations. With the ball on the 2-yard line, Falk connected with Marks for the touchdown. During Saturday’s practice, Falk had two red zone touchdowns during the 7-on-7 period.

Falk is known for his attention to detail and studiousness in the film room, and that has certainly been true this spring. Falk talked about the time spent in the film room in between practices in order to continue to improve.

“Just looking at film and see things that you did good and improve on those. And then I always look during each film session at one thing I can do better and then apply that and try and put it into the next practice," Falk said.

Falk also talked about his leadership on the team, something associated with him since last season. He is young but he has a presence, one that teammates respect, probably because of his emphasis on maintaining personal relationships with the team. After practice he said that he wants to work with all the other leaders on the team to create a cohesive group.

As for Bender, he showcased his arm strength and accuracy on Tuesday, connecting for touchdowns to Marks, Robert Lewis, Tyler Baker, and Priester, while also completing 10 of his 13 passes. The lack of live game experience has not slowed him down much this spring and he has been adept at laying long passes into the arms of the receivers. During Saturday's practice, Bender completed several 25-plus yard throws and added a few more Tuesday. His physical tools are impressive and the reps he has taken this spring have increased his comfort level within the offense.

Outside receivers coach Graham Harrell spoke highly of both quarterbacks progression thus far in spring ball after practices, saying the reps have made them both more comfortable and quicker at with their decisions.

“They are doing a really nice job of making plays quickly, at a faster rate than a lot of people,” Harrell said. “It’s only practice 5 or 6 and they look like they’ve been out here for a full spring already. You would expect them to look like this at the end of spring, not at practice 6. They are doing things faster than expected and I think a lot of it has to do with just reps. They are getting experience, they are feeling more comfortable in leading the offense and doing a nice job.”

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