Luke Falk took over as Washington State football’s career passing yards leader early in Saturday’s matchup with the Boise State Broncos. The senior quarterback has thrown for 11,392 yards over the course of his four (incomplete) seasons. He’s been entrenched as the starter for much of that time on campus — that is, until the second half of the Boise game.
And shortly after ascending past (his predecessor) Connor Halliday, Falk may have already been usurped on his own depth chart. Sophomore Tyler Hilinski threw for 240 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, on 25-of-33 passing. He also led a furious Cougars comeback in the fourth quarter that erased a 21-point lead and then eventually collected the triple overtime win.
“Shoot, I was just playing football out there, surrounded by a great group of guys,” Hilinski said after the game. “They told me they have faith in me. I was ready to do my job.”
Despite the modest reaction, the Claremont, California native did far more than just “his job” vs. Boise State. He jumped in for Falk without much prep first, then led the comeback the second time around after the starter was felled with an injury. Helinski didn’t have to move the ball with his legs, but his ability to avoid pressure in the pocket helped extend plays and keep the team’s slim-at-one-point hopes alive.
Following the surprising 47-44 triumph in Pullman, Washington, Helinski was hoisted onto his teammates’ shoulders.
One would think that would be the start of a new quarterback era for Washington State, but it appears that coach Mike Leach is not necessarily ready to hand those keys over just yet:
— Jessamyn McIntyre (@JessamynMcIntyr) September 11, 2017
Given the capable back-up breathing down the senior’s neck now, though, Falk’s leash probably got a whole lot shorter with the mercurial Leach. It has to make you wonder if the former walk-on should’ve decided to go pro this past offseason instead.
Falk was seen as a potential first- or second-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, had he chosen to declare. There’s always a risk when drafting QBs, obviously. However, that’s not the quarterbacks’ problem as much as it is for the team that takes the time and money to develop him. For now, Falk is still seen as a first-rounder. But should he wind up on the bench at some point this season, that stock could fall very quickly. NFL Draft history is littered with cases of players whose stock fell. And for every Aaron Rodgers and Teddy Bridgewater, there are several examples like Cardale Jones, Brad Kaaya, Chad Kelly, Christian Hackenberg, Geno Smith and many more.
For what it’s worth, Falk has proven himself beyond the blanket label of “system passer” typically applied to Leach proteges. Not only has Wazzu won under Falk, but he’s managed to get more accurate each year, and average at least seven yards per attempt each season before this one. No matter what system you’re in, throwing for over 11,000 yards is always impressive. On top of that, he’s quickly climbing the career yardage rankings for all of FBS. He’s currently 46th all-time — though a 300-yard game against Oregon State could vault him to 39th.
While Falk is the confirmed starter for now, that doesn’t mean Hilinski is just waiting patiently next weekend (and possibly beyond). Coming out of high school, he was a three-star recruit, and the 24th-ranked pro-style passer according to the 247Sports composite. In limited action between 2016 and 2017, he’s thrown for 535 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Between those numbers, a 78 percent career completion rate and Saturday’s big win over a strong opponent, Hilinski has some semblance of a case to be the starter now.
Oregon State, with a pass defense in the bottom third of the country, could be the test to decide whether Falk can solidify himself as the starter for the remainder of the year. Boise’s pass defense is even worse than the Beavers’, though Leach didn’t appear enamored with Falk’s performance this past week against the latter.
Whether it’s this year or next, Hilinski will end up starting for Washington State. But based on last week’s performance, it doesn’t appear we’ll be waiting much longer for the Cougars’ next era to begin.