Breaking down Cougar QB Peyton Bender

PEYTON BENDER, the guy casual fans simply know as Luke Falk’s backup, is far from Mr. Obscure to those who have followed him closely. There’s a good chance he’ll be the Cougars’ starting quarterback Friday at Husky Stadium, no doubt sending nervous chills down the crimson spine because he’s 1) not Luke Falk and 2) only thrown 33 passes in his college career.

But in so many ways, he’s not your typical second-year freshman who is being shoved onto the prime-time stage when you least expected, or wanted, it.

Last spring he pushed Falk hard for the right to succeed Connor Halliday, not yielding until the spring game when Falk was nearly flawless and Bender was just solid (29 of 42 for 265 yards with two TDs and two INTs. And while Falk was in the driver's seat throughout August camp, Bender acquitted himself well -- to the point the official depth chart has listed Falk OR Bender as the No. 1 QB since the season opener.

Mike Leach was unequivocal on LOI Day 2014 after signing Bender: "He steadily improves more than any quarterback I've recruited." That statement takes on greater significance when you consider that three of his QBs at Texas Tech finished in the top 10 for the Heisman Trophy and there's a chance Falk -- a preferred walk on -- could as well.

In the run up to that signing day, CF.C talked with a variety insiders who believed that Bender could be something special at the next level.

Ken Mastrole, the quarterback tutor whose list of pupils includes NFL players, told us Bender conjures images of another guy who hitched his wagon to Mike Leach.

"Honestly, he reminds me a lot of Graham Harrell," Mastrole said. "He's got a lightning-quick release, and he's just a gritty kid who will go out there and battle."

Bender’s release is so quick, he added, that he has the ability to "whip it 20-30 miles-per-hour in any conditions."

That includes rear-end-numbing temperatures. In relief of the injured Falk in Saturday night’s chilly victory over Colorado, Bender completed 13 of 22 passes for 133 yards, one TD and one INT.

ESPN analyst and one-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer joined the chorus in 2013 as well. At an Elite 11 camp in Atlanta he once told Bender his release is as quick as any QB in all the years the Elite 11 has been around. Dilfer later tweeted of Bender, "Kid is going to throw for a billion yards at WSU.”

Mike Morrill, Bender’s head coach at Cardinal Gibbons High in For Lauderdale, described Bender to us this way:

"He's a very cerebral kid, he's a film kid," the coach said. "He does not get frazzled, he's an unshakeable kid. All those things bode well for a QB who's going to have to throw the ball quite a bit in that offense (at WSU) …"

Bender’s offensive coordinator at Cardinal Gibbons, Matt DuBuc (a pre-Leach Texas Tech player but a firm believer in the Air Raid), told CF.C there's another part of Bender’s game that makes him special.

"His footwork .. he moves so well within the pocket. That's what got Washington State on him. And just the velocity in which he throws the ball. That was the appetizer and now he has developed the mental part of the game." He also lauded Bender for his ability to make quick decisions.

BUT THIS WEEK COME THE WORDS THAT should help put Cougar fans at ease if Bender makes the start Friday instead of Falk. They're from WSU quarterbacking legend and current color analyst Jason Gesser.

In this video interview with Lindsay Joy of SWXRightNow in Spokane, he was asked, among other things, to assess Bender's work against Colorado.

"I saw a very poised, great-demeanor, quick-decision quarterback -- something we didn't see in UCLA," Gesser said. "Now he made a great throw for a tocuhdown against UCLA but talking to the kid after the game he (said) 'Hey, Gess, I was nervous...' Which he should be, he's a freshman. That was his first, really, live bullets in Pac-12 play ..."

"Now the game that we saw him play against Colorado, I thought he was very quick to make decisions with the football, put the ball around in the right places. The one thing you do see from him is a live arm, a very accurate arm, and that touchdown throw to Gabe Marks in the corner I don't think people understand how tough of a throw that was ... He got hit as he was throwing that football, so for a freshman to stand in there and take those hits as he's throwing that ball, delivering the ball, that's nice to see."


Second-year freshman

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Cardinal Gibbons

6-foot, 187 pounds

Penn State

Split time as a junior, completing 96 of 176 passes for 1,402 yards, 15 TDs and 6 INTs. Rated 3 stars by as a senior, earning 5A honorable mention All-State honors after completing 167 of 256 passes for 2,184 yards, 26 TDs and 6 INTs.

2014: redshirted
2015: 17 of 33 (51.5 percent) for 210 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs in four games.

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