Luke Falk is on the brink of becoming the most prolific passer in Pac-12 history. Khalil Tate has burst onto the scene with a trio of remarkable performances.
The quarterbacks certainly will be in the spotlight when the No. 15 Cougars (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12) play Arizona (5-2, 3-1) in Tucson on Saturday night.
After last week’s 28-0 win at Colorado made Falk the winningest quarterback in school history, Falk downplayed his mounting numbers.
”We always talk about that’s the only stat that matters, and it was a fun one to get,” he said, ”and we got to keep it going because we got a special team and we are nowhere near being a finished product right now.”
Falk needs 225 yards to break the Pac-12 career record for yards passing (13,376) held by Oregon State’s Sean Mannion and six touchdown passes to break the mark of 116 held by USC’s Matt Barkley.
And Falk’s career statistics against Arizona are eye popping: 2-0, completing 79 of 97 passes for 825 yards.
Tate, meanwhile, is the catalyst of the Wildcats’ climb into contention in the Pac-12 South with consecutive wins over Colorado, UCLA and California.
The speedy and evasive quarterback set an FBS quarterback rushing record with 327 yards (and four TDs in just 14 carries) against Colorado. He also completed 12 of 13 passes for 154 yards and another score in that game.
He followed with 230 yards rushing and 148 yards passing against UCLA and 137 yards rushing and 166 passing against Cal.
In the process, Tate became the first player to win three consecutive Pac-12 offensive player of the week honors since Rodney Peete of USC did it in 1988.
”He has been impressive,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. ”Folks know about him but it’s still tough to stop him. He’s the key to their offense now.”
In their last road game two weeks ago, Washington State was stunned by a 37-3 loss at California.
Here are some things to consider as the Wildcats play host to the Cougars:
REVENGE OR REDEMPTION: Arizona players and fans can use either word as motivation for this game because the Wildcats’ loss in Pullman last year was of historic proportion.
The 69-7 rout was the most one-sided loss for Arizona since 1949. That’s right, four years after the end of World War II.
Falk completed 32 of 35 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns before going to the sidelines to watch the final stages of the blowout.
The embarrassment naturally has been a big subject of discussion as this much better Wildcats team prepares for the talented Cougars.
”I think that redemption is probably a better word than revenge,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said, ”but there’s no question that it’s embarrassing; terrible – every bad adjective that you can have about it. That was a long time ago, this is a completely different team. But we certainly have a lot to prove against those guys, that’s for sure.”
COUGAR DEFENSE: Much is made of the Cougars’ offensive prowess, but this Washington State team has a strong defense.
The Cougars’ defense ranks seventh nationally and second in the Pac-12 (behind Washington), allowing 274 yards and 18.4 points per game. Washington State rates first in the conference in pass defense and third in run defense.
Aptly named defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa and linebackers Isaac Dotson and Frankie Luvu will try to limit those Arizona big plays.
WILDCATS OFFENSE: Rodriguez practically invented the read option offense so prevalent in college football today. And now he has just the guy to run it.
But Tate isn’t the only threat. Arizona has a strong trio of running backs in J.J. Taylor, Zach Green and Nick Wilson, although Wilson is questionable with an ankle injury.
Arizona is tied for eighth nationally and first in the Pac-12 in total offense at 514 yards per game. It’s also the highest-scoring team in the conference at 43 points per game.
YOUNG ARIZONA: So far this season, the Wildcats have played 27 freshmen, 17 of them true freshmen. Five true freshmen start on defense.
That bodes well for the future of a surprising Arizona program that was picked to battle Arizona State for last place in the Pac-12 South.
BIG COUGARS: There are some massive humans on the offensive line protecting Falk and clearing holes for the talented Washington State running backs.
The 2017 Cougar offensive line averages 322.6 pounds.
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