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Apple Cup what-if game popular with WSU's Luke Falk sidelined in 45-10 loss

SEATTLE – In what amounted to a deflating end to what has been a resurgent year for No. 20 Washington State, Friday's 45-10 Apple Cup loss included a heaping helping of what if.

Chiefly, it’s hard not to wonder if this one would have at least been a more competitive affair had WSU had the services of starting quarterback Luke Falk.

The uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position was, of course, the biggest storyline surrounding the Cougs coming into the matchup with their Apple Cup-rivals.

Falk, in contention for Pac-12 offensive player of the year honors after throwing for 4,266 yards and 36 touchdowns this season, sat out Friday's game following an injury last week against Colorado.  In his place was second-year freshman Peyton Bender, who made his first college career start.

Bender held his own early and seemed to be moving the ball effectively against a stout Washington defense, but Cougars couldn't turn yards into points, as a 17-3 halftime deficit grew substantially in the second half.

Bender completed 24 of 34 passes for 192 yards in the first half, but Erik Powell's 41-yard field goal on the opening drive was all the Cougars had to show for it.  This wasn’t all attributable to Bender, as he was victimized by a couple of early drops from his receivers and a missed field goal by Powell, but the setbacks caused by Falk’s absence and Bender’s inexperience were evident throughout the game.

Bender’s second half would devolve into an all-out disaster, starting after he lofted a second down pass directly into the arms of UW defensive back Sidney Jones, who raced the opposite way for a 69-yard touchdown.  Bender did manage a touchdown throw to Dom Williams follow a Marcellus Pippins interception in the third quarter,. But  WSU’s offense came apart late, as the Huskies returned two fumbles for touchdowns to effectively seal the blowout result.

By the time it was all said and done, the Cougars had committed a whopping seven turnovers on the afternoon.

Bender finished with a final line of 36 of 58 passes for 288 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The Cougs weren’t much better defensively, doing little to stop UW and freshman running back Myles Gaskin, who rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

It would be presumptuous to make the claim that Falk’s presence would have drastically flipped this result. WSU was outplayed soundly in every phase of the game apart from Bender’s struggles.  But it's reasonable to assume the Cougars would have had something less than a seven-turnover performance; in Falk's 11 starts, WSU had 17 turnovers, an average of 1.5 per game.

That offers little consolation for Cougs fans, who are left to ponder what might have been had their first-choice quarterback been able to take the field.

Instead, they’re left with a third consecutive Apple Cup defeat.


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