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WSU QB Luke Falk says running threat has been vital to No. 20 Cougars’ success

Nov 17, 2016, 3:51 PM | Updated: 4:15 pm
Luke Falk says Washington State's improved running game forces opponents to defend them differently...
Luke Falk says Washington State's improved running game forces opponents to defend them differently. (AP)
LISTEN: Luke Falk on WSU's improved rushing attack

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk has vaulted into Heisman Trophy contention over the past few weeks because of some increasingly efficient numbers through the air. But the junior told 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Thursday that the Cougars’ improved running game has been a key to opening up the passing attack.

“I think teams have to play us a little differently,” Falk said. “I think at the beginning of the year they could drop eight (defenders into pass coverage), just rush three. But now they can’t. We have a real run threat.”

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The Cougars are ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press poll thanks to an eight-game winning streak, and the team’s offense has been especially dynamic during that time, specifically over the last four games in which Falk has completed more than 77 percent of his passes for 1,497 yards, 17 touchdowns and just one interception. Ranking first this season in the NCAA in completion percentage, second in passing, third in passing yards, fourth in total offense and fifth in passing touchdowns, Falk was even named a Player of the Year semifinalist by the Walter Camp Football Foundation and a Burlsworth Trophy finalist on Thursday.

Falk’s numbers are often enhanced by head coach Mike Leach’s air-raid attack that often means throwing the ball more than everyone else in the country. But the team has dedicated itself more to the run this year, and over the last two games the trio of James Williams, Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks produced 151 rushing yards on 26 carries against Arizona and 241 yards on 27 carries against Cal.

“I know a lot of guys when they committed here that came in my class, people always ask them, ‘Why are you coming here? You’re never gonna run the ball,’” Falk said of WSU’s running backs. “I think they’re shocking a lot of people, especially with the numbers they’re putting up. They’re doing a real nice job.”

Falk also credited the offensive line for opening holes as well as keeping him protected in the pocket.

“If you’ve got to take some shots, then you’ve got to take some shots. That’s part of playing football,” Falk said. “I’ve really appreciated the last two or three weeks where I rarely got touched. So I got to take those guys out to a steak dinner … I’ve gotta just get the next stipend check and we’ll be on our way.”

Other highlights from the conversation:

On the team buying in after opening the season with two losses: “Once we bought in, we could feel the shift in energy, and it was like a new season for us once Pac-12 play started. We really looked at it as the preseason is over now, we can’t do anything about that and all we can do is get a week better. And I think that’s been our mindset, just get one week better each week.”

What it’s like to be QB of this offense: “Fun. It’s super fun. You have a lot of things on you. You make the checks, you’re throwing it a lot. I know we run it now but you’re still throwing it 50 times a game and things like that. It’s just real fun, you have a lot of involvement in the offense.”

Preventing arm fatigue: “You do a lot of pre-hab. You’ve got to … do a lot of shoulder exercises and things like that. Then, honestly, we throw it a lot at practice, so game day comes around and it doesn’t even feel like a load at all, it’s actually a lightened load. So you really just condition your arm and you go out there and it’s all natural, and once adrenaline kicks in, too, and everything like that you can’t feel anything.”

On his Heisman recognition: “I really look at it as a team recognition, I’m just happy for our guys that they’re getting that.”

On University of Washington QB Jake Browning’s play: “He’s having a great year and when the Apple Cup comes around we’ll focus on that. Right now all my mental energy, physical energy, all that is just going to Colorado, facing a good opponent. Just trying to give my best to my team this week.”

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