Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars have been put in a bit of a tight spot for quarterback play now that Tyler Bruggman has transferred out of the program. It looks like the future of Cougar football now lies with underrated walk-on Luke Falk out of Logan, UT, 2014 signee Peyton Bender out of Fort Lauderdale, FL and 2015 verbal commit Tyler Hilinski from Upland, CA.
Walk-on Connor Ennis from Washington D.C. is the other quarterback on the roster, though we rarely bring him up in conversation when considering any serious playing time. Chances are we still won’t talk about him much, even with the loss of Bruggman, but if he had a chance to make himself known as a quality backup option the time is now.
As of right this very second for 2014 that leaves the Cougars with only two scholarship quarterbacks and also two walk-ons at the position, with a walk-on next in line to take snaps if redshirt senior Connor Halliday were to fall in battle. Because of Falk’s decent play in the Crimson and Gray game earlier this Spring (coupled with his great size) we haven’t really discussed the quandary the Cougs are in with Bruggman’s loss.
It really all comes down to numbers. Remember Bruggman is not the only quarterback to have transferred out between last season and right now, last year’s backup Austin Apodaca also transferred out before Spring ball. Both denied the rumors that playing time was an issue, though it certainly must have equated somehow. But basically both felt as if this was just not the right fit for them when it came right down to it. We don’t fault them, sometimes that’s just what happens, but it doesn’t suck any less.
Leach prefers to scholarship an athlete at the position every season, partially because things like this are bound to happen but also because the system really hums when more mature quarterbacks take over the reigns every year or two.
That would always leave his teams with five scholarship quarterbacks every season, in an ideal world, not including the preferred walk-on spot. Again, the Cougs are down to two scholarships and two walk-ons at the position. If anything happens to Halliday this season, we’re talking about a real problem. Falk could step up and be the gem that we are hoping he is becoming, but WSU comes one degree of separation away from losing their redshirt on Bender, a twisted ankle away from having to count on a true freshman who has yet to take a snap in a college practice.
Have true freshmen come in and been ok in similar systems? Yes, you could look just last season at Texas Tech’s Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb for a good reference on that. Even then, it doesn’t always work out. Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma after a rocky mid-season forced Webb into the lineup via injury and eventually left a recovered Mayfield on the sidelines. Due to a weak schedule the Raiders did well, but the end of the season was a disaster. Luckily for coach Kliff Kingsbury, a Mike Leach disciple and former TT quarterback himself, it works out to still having a young but experienced quarterback in the system.
Going back to WSU, remember Bender is coming off of a senior season-ending shoulder injury that only left him with three games of any football in 2013. He’s recovered but will need time to acclimate to live reps and game speed again, not to mention getting up to speed with the high level of Pac-12 play. Short story and best-case scenario, the Cougs stay healthier than they’ve stayed in a long time and won’t need him in 2014 and he can vie for the starting spot in 2015.
Of course Halliday could stay healthy all season, the offensive line is bigger/plays better, he gets the ball out faster, slides when he runs and avoids the extra-big hits. Basically he’s got to be smarter and it doesn’t hurt that he’s bigger to try and avoid any sort of injury. Other scenarios leave a dicey propaganda for WSU this season and in football, health is not guaranteed. Keep this in mind, in that Tech story that “worked out”, I left out the part where for whatever reason four different quarterbacks were forced to take snaps during the course of the season.
FOUR!!! Exactly the amount WSU even has left on their roster!
But there’s also the issues of just not enough numbers, no experience and no superstar athletes coming to the aid in the future, after Halliday graduates. No Apodaca (Mesa CC), no Bruggman (undecided transfer), no Brett Rypien (Boise State), no Jake Browning (Washington). With all that in mind, will Leach consider going after another quarterback in 2015 to add to Hilinski? Will the Cougs perhaps revamp their efforts at Rypien, Browning or another call to Brady White (Arizona State)? Surely there are others that would be delighted to get that call.
We’ll keep you updated if we hear Leach starts sniffing around for another QB. In the meantime, let’s start praying for a healthy season for Connor.