Again, WSU's 31-27 win at UCLA was a team victory in the truest sense – but what Falk was able to do after being knocked out at the end of the first half was nothing short of amazing.
Late in the college football season everyone on the field is playing with some sort of injury. In addition to getting knocked out of the game at the end of the first half against UCLA, it has sure looked from the outside looking in that Falk has been battling through some things -- we’ve seen him writhe on the ground in pain or limping gingerly off the field more than a few times in recent weeks.
This only serves to make his level of play over the last half of the season that much more impressive. And this sort of toughness earns the ultimate respect in a football locker room.
When you are willing to sacrifice to that level for the team, the guys around you will do everything in their power to ensure your success. It is the true sign of a leader.
It also has a snowball effect because when everyone believes so highly in the guy pulling the trigger, they seem to find an extra gear in crucial situations. Success in football is a product of all 11 guys on the field operating in sync. When you know your leader is playing through an injury you become that much more focused on executing your assignment. Falk’s toughness brings an attitude to this Cougar team, a vital ingredient to its success.
There was a play on Washington State’s first drive of the second half that stood out in my mind as the epitome of Falk’s accuracy as a passer. The Cougars were down 16-14 and in desperate need of a touchdown to regain momentum. On third-and-three, Falk dropped back and threw a strike to Kyle Sweet on a corner route against press man coverage. He literally could not have handed the ball to him in a better place.
For much of the game UCLA tried to take away short throws and effect the timing of the Air Raid offense by playing two-man or press-man coverage. On that third down completion to Sweet, Falk’s initial read was to Gabe Marks on a quick slant or Keith Harrington on a flat route out of the backfield. The Bruin defenders took those away and he was left with a much more difficult throw from the left hash all the way outside the numbers on the right.
Falk’s ability to make these types of throws on crucial downs completely neutralizes a defensive coordinator's game plan. UCLA could not have defended those routes any better, yet Falk’s accuracy made them pay.
There will always be a discussion about “system quarterbacks” with a Mike Leach offense. The fact of the matter is you cannot teach the accuracy Falk possesses. He takes the Air Raid concepts to another level because every throw is available to him.
This is what makes the Cougar offense so dangerous with Luke at the helm.The "system" argument does not apply nor does it hold merit when you're talking about accuracy.
Falk’s cool, calm nature has already earned him the moniker “Cool Hand Luke” (you know you are good when you have already acquired a nickname less than a season into being a starter.) And I remember after he was knocked out of the final drive against Portland State feeling like he would have undoubtedly led WSU down the field for the game winning score.
He has since gone on to confirm my feelings with a quartet of fourth quarter comebacks this year. And by no stretch is it hard to imagine that number being six if he stayed in against the Vikings and that final field goal in the rain had gone through the uprights against Stanford.
The best thing about Falk is the way he carries himself throughout the game, not just in the fourth quarter. Rarely does he get too high or too low. Although highly competitive, he is on an even keel the majority of the time. That sense of calmness rubs off on his teammates and everyone feels the same confidence.
With the roller coaster nature of a football game and season, it is crucial to have a leader with this mindset. Leach exudes the same demeanor in leading this team and rarely lets the group revel in a win or wallow in a loss too long.
What makes Falk’s mindset even more impressive is that he is only a third-year sophomore. He is clearly beyond his QB years mentally and that is the single biggest reason for his success so early in his career.
Great quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes. A lot of people love to try and create a mold but there is no cookie-cutter shape. The best ones figure out how to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. The one common theme? Their ability to be leaders of men.
They command their huddle and hold the respect of everyone in the room. Falk has already proven without a doubt that he can be that guy. His toughness, accuracy and cool demeanor are his recipe for success. The best part is Cougar fans get the rest of this season, plus two more years, to enjoy the show.
Relive Falk's game winning pass to Marks in the 31-27 win at UCLA in the video below:
ABOUT ALEX BRINK: He authors this hugely popular weekly column during the season on Cougfan.com but once upon a time, Alex Brink was the starting quarterback at Washington State. And from 2004-2007, he threw for more yards and touchdowns than anyone in school history -- and the third-most yards in Pac-10 history. He was picked second-team all-Pac-10 twice and honorable mention once. Drafted in the seventh round by the Houston Texans in 2008, he spent a season on their practice squad before playing five years in the Canadian Football League: three campaigns with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2010-12) followed by two seasons in Montreal (2013-14). He is the quarterbacks coach at Lakeridge High in Lake Oswego, Ore., and does a weekly Pac-12 podcast. He can be found on twitter at @AlexBrink10.