JIM MOORE

Moore: Worst part of Cougs’ Holiday Bowl loss wasn’t the score, it was the charade involving Luke Falk

Dec 29, 2017, 10:45 AM
washington state, wsu, cougars, luke falk, falk...
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk watches from the sideline during the first half of the team's Holiday Bowl NCAA college football game against Michigan State on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

You can look at the Cougs and say that all in all, we’re in pretty good shape, having won eight games for three straight seasons even after losing 42-17 to Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl Thursday night.

Or you can look at them and wonder what in the heck happened to the team that beat USC and Stanford this year. The team that lost to the Spartans is the same one we saw in blowout defeats to Cal, Arizona and Washington.

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Hard to call a 9-4 season a less than successful one, but I will. We were good, but we benefited from playing seven home games, playing USC when the Trojans had a banged-up offensive line, Oregon without Justin Herbert and Stanford with Bryce Love at less than full speed.

As silly as it sounds, I’d almost trade a loss in one of those games for a win in the Apple Cup or even a more competitive showing against the Dawgs, but we didn’t get that for the fifth straight year.

The worst part of Thursday night’s game was the charade involving Luke Falk, who did not play because of a wrist injury. We didn’t know about it because Mike Leach has a policy of not disclosing injuries.

It’s a coach’s prerogative to do that, but I’ve always thought it was a dumb policy, and he took it to even dumber levels with Falk, the star player on his team. You can argue that it shouldn’t matter, Leach is doing what he thinks is best for his team, and the general public doesn’t need to know what’s going on with the health of his players.

That’s fine, but I disagree. There were questions earlier this week about a brace or sleeve that was seen on Falk’s left wrist, and Leach casually brushed them off, probably so he could get to more important issues, such as how he feels about raccoons.

What’s comical to me is extending the mystery of whether Falk would play or not into pre-game warmups. Falk was in uniform and on the field, going through drills. What was the point of that if you’ve known he wasn’t going to play all week, maybe even all month if he suffered the wrist injury in the Apple Cup and reportedly had surgery to fix it?

Oh wait, it was no doubt gamesmanship, a bid to confuse Michigan State and create doubt in their defensive preparations for Falk or backup Tyler Hilinski, who ended up starting.

If that’s the case – and we’re free to speculate since we don’t get the truth – that’s crazy. It’s one thing for a coach to fib to the media, but what if you’re Falk, a kid who has had to act like a contestant on “The Bachelor” and not tell anyone what’s going on.

Or heck, I don’t know, maybe he’s had this injury and played with it for part of the season as some have suggested. And maybe he sat out the Holiday Bowl like other star players so he wouldn’t hurt his draft stock. I wouldn’t buy any of that with Falk though – he needed to play well in the Holiday Bowl to improve his draft stock after poor road showings this year.

Then, of course, when asked about Falk post-game, Leach harrumphed and dodged and deflected and acted like the questions were out of line when they weren’t.

I don’t get it. What’s wrong with just being up front about injuries? Why not come out and say something like: “Well, it’s unfortunate, Luke broke his wrist in the Apple Cup and had surgery after the game. We don’t think it will affect his career long-term, but he won’t be able to play against Michigan State. He feels terrible about it, particularly since the game is on his 23rd birthday, and it’s his last one with us. So we’ll go with Tyler, and we like what he did against Boise State and Arizona, and hope he’ll play well against Michigan State too.”

Would that somehow give the Spartans a competitive advantage, having more time to prepare for a backup quarterback than the starter? And even so, if it’s me, I would like to think I’m going to line up head to head with my opponent and beat the heck out of you anyway. This subterfuge or whatever you want to call it is ridiculous.

But then, that’s what the last month has been, as in completely ridiculous. You have a coach who basically had a deal in place to go to Tennessee until the athletic director was fired, on the same day that Leach was presumably headed to Knoxville.

And then we’re so worried about losing our coach that our university president extends his contract and gives him a raise, as if that’s going to somehow stop him from exploring more lucrative opportunities next year and the year after that. Whatever the buyout clauses are in his new contract, they won’t stop bigger schools from pursuing Leach if he has another winning season in 2018. Meanwhile, alums are asked to donate more and more money so we can keep this madness going.

If you’re like me, you’ve got all kinds of questions, but since none of them involve rodents, you’re wasting your time trying to get answers.

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Moore: Worst part of Cougs’ Holiday Bowl loss wasn’t the score, it was the charade involving Luke Falk