Arizona State dared to tug on Superman’s cape. In fact, the Sun Devils yanked that cape off Luke Falk’s broad shoulders, revealing Falk to be every bit as inexperienced as he is talented. Coming off one of the greatest starting debuts in Pac-12 history, Falk had a 601-yard passing day at ASU that ranks second in conference history.
Falk also committed all five turnovers Saturday – four interceptions and a fumble – and the 13th-ranked Sun Devils scored touchdowns off all to rally past Washington State, 52-31.
The Cougars, who usually start slower than a 1964 pickup truck, led 21-7 in the second quarter and 24-21 at the half. Arizona State responded with 31 unanswered points before Falk threw his third touchdown pass with 24 seconds left in a lost cause.
“A tale of two halves. That’s on me,” Falk said in a post-game interview with WSU radio analyst Jason Gesser.
Falk, a redshirt freshman, could learn a thing or two from Gesser, one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in Washington State history. Falk says he already has learned plenty from Mike Leach, and WSU’s coach can only hope Falk and many of his teammates learned plenty from Saturday’s collapse at Sun Devil Stadium.
“We’ve got to overcome adversity,” Leach said. “We can’t turn the ball over, and if we do turn it over, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves on the next drive.”
Falk pleads guilty as charged.
“There were some times out there where I was thinking about the last play,” Falk admitted. “I just needed to address the play as its own and go out there and do my job.”
WSU’s much-maligned defense gave up just 330 total yards, a season low for a Pac-12 opponent against the Cougars. The turnovers gave Arizona State short fields, but the Cougars ran 100 plays to ASU’s 61. Also, superb ASU wide receiver Jaelen Strong sat out with a concussion, and quarterback Taylor Kelly is still limited by a pin in his right foot after recently undergoing surgery.
“We probably got more three-and-outs against them than anyone has this year,” Leach said. “We probably hit the quarterback more than anyone this year.
“But then after turnovers – and it didn’t matter how far away it was (from the end zone when ASU took possession) – we’d give up the ghost on defense. The only time they were consistently able to move the ball on us was if it followed a turnover.
“Well,” Leach barked, “it’s all in our heads. We’re feeling sorry for ourselves rather than overcoming adversity. We’re not competing the next play.”
Leach concluded, “If you take the drives that didn’t start with a turnover, we played great defense. If you take the drives that started with a turnover, we made them look like the most explosive offense in the world.”
WSU’s offense answered to that description at times, despite the game’s 10 a.m. PST kickoff (11 in Tempe). Falk completed 45 of 74 passes – the attempts rank third in Pac-12 history – and his talented crew of receivers made some outstanding plays. Only Connor Halliday, Falk’s injured predecessor, has ever thrown for more yards or attempts in a game for a Pac-12 team.
“They really couldn’t stop us the whole day unless we stopped ourselves,” Leach said.
Senior wide receiver Vince Mayle was the main beneficiary of Falk’s constant passing (the Cougars’ 622 total yards included just 21 on the ground). Mayle broke his own school record of 14 catches in a game by making 15. His 252 receiving yards in a game rank fourth in school history. He extended his school record for receptions in a season to 101, and he broke Marquess Wilson’s school record for single-season receiving yards by pushing his total to 1,404.
So, Vince, how do you feel about having a record day in a loss?
“It obviously sucks,” Mayle said, “because we didn’t win.”
The loss was WSU’s sixth straight in Tempe – the average margin of defeat has been 30 points – and dropped Leach’s three-year record with the Cougars to 12-24. For those scoring at home, national coach of the year candidate Todd Graham is 27-11 in three years at Arizona State.
This season, ASU is 9-2 overall, 6-2 in the Pac-12 and fighting for the South Division title. WSU is 3-8 and 2-6 and fighting to avoid finishing last in the North Division. The Cougars are 1-1 with Falk starting, since he threw for 471 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in a 39-32 win at Oregon State.
Leach hopes to improve his record against archrival Washington to 2-1 when the Cougars finish the season Saturday at home (7:30 p.m., FOX Sports 1). The Cougars say a limited number of tickets may become available in the next day or two. For updates, go to www.wsucougars.com or phone (800) GO-COUGS.