Luke Falk, Khalil Tate on display as No. 15 Washington State visits Arizona
No. 15 Washington State and Arizona have different types of quarterbacks but each are synonymous with winning as the teams enter Saturday’s game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.
Luke Falk, the Cougars’ career leader in victories as a quarterback with 25, will provide the biggest test of the season to the surging Wildcats and electrifying quarterback Khalil Tate.
Tate, in the last three Pac-12 games against Colorado, UCLA and Cal — all victories since he replaced Brandon Dawkins — has rushed for 694 yards on only 46 carries, an average of 15.1 yards per carry. He has won three consecutive Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors.
“He does a really good job with his feet … as you’re preoccupied with that, if they get behind (the defense) he can even throw a floater to him and the guy’s wide open,” said WSU coach Mike Leach.
“He has been impressive. Folks know about him but it’s still tough to stop him. He’s the key to their offense now.”
Falk’s passing is the key to Leach’s “Air Raid” offense for Washington State (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12).
Arizona (5-2, 3-1) is focused more on Falk than using last year’s 69-7 loss to the Cougars in Pullman, Wash., as motivation.
“Somebody’s going to talk about revenge. That word is used way too much,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “You’re not defending somebody that injured your family or something like. You got embarrassed in a football game. I think redemption is a more proper word than revenge.”
Falk is the NCAA’s active career leader in passing yards with 13,376, touchdown passes with 111 and yards per game at 343. He needs 225 yards passing to break former Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion’s Pac-12 passing record of 13,600 yards.
Falk needs six touchdowns to break former USC quarterback Matt Barkley’s Pac-12 passing touchdown record of 116.
Rodriguez is concerned about Falk’s ability to move the ball against the Wildcats, who allowed Cal to convert 13 third-down opportunities in last week’s 45-44 overtime win over the Golden Bears.
“Defensively, we’re playing hard, we’re competing,” Rodriguez said. “We’re playing a team that will expose you, if you’re not gap-sound or if you’re not technique-sound. It’s a big week for us defensively to get ready.”
Falk showed some mobility as well last week in a 28-0 win over Colorado, which was mostly predicated on poor weather conditions that affected the passing game.
Leach described Falk as “quick-footed but not fast” when he rushed for a career-high 41 yards against the Buffaloes. Tate broke onto the national scene against Colorado with an FBS-record 327 yards rushing for a quarterback in a 45-42 win on Oct. 7.
Falk had the longest single run of his career, which includes 38 games, when he scrambled for 16 yards in the second quarter against Colorado. In Tate’s three starts, the sophomore has achieved 14 rushes of at least 16 yards.
“(Leach) did call me the slowest quarterback in the country at one time,” Falk joked after the Colorado game.
“I feel like he thought he was Khalil Tate a little bit, trying to make the long runs,” running back Jamal Morrow told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review. “It was great to see him get loose a little bit, finally. Instead of going backward, going forward.”
Washington State appears to have the defensive personnel to prevent Tate from going forward for his customary long runs.
The Cougars rank No. 22 nationally against the run (allowing 120.3 yards a game) with aggressive and athletic defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa and linebacker Frankie Luvu two of the best tacklers in the conference in tackles for loss.
Mata’afa leads the Pac-12 with 13 tackles for loss and Luvu is sixth at 8.5. Hunter Dale, a safety, has seven, which ranks him at No. 13 in the league.
With Mata’afa, Luvu and Dale, the Cougars have the physicality and speed to match up with Tate if he happens to get to the perimeter or blast through the defensive front.
Jalen Thompson, a sophomore strong safety, also provides a strong line of defense to keep Tate from breaking free. He had a career-high 10 tackles and a fumble recovery against Colorado.
The Cougars are No. 7 nationally in total defense, yielding only 274 yards a game. Third-year coordinator Alex Grinch will be a hot name when head coaching vacancies occur after the season.