Washington State Football: Examining the Options at Backup Quarterback


There’s been a lot of talk recently about fifth-year senior quarterback Connor Halliday and it seems that after watching the Spring game and hearing the stories of Halliday’s triumphs in practice and in the weight room, those that hated him last season have come around to accepting him as the best option available, if not a decent to really good QB.

But what happens if (knock on wood) he tragically goes down in the middle of a game this season and the Cougs need No. 2 to come in and try to win them a game? Who comes in? Will they be able to keep the Mike Leach offense afloat? Questions abound.

It seems that going into the Spring game the backup quarterback job was just as up-in-the-air as any position on the roster. Though Tyler Bruggman was deemed the heir-apparent the minute he signed his Letter of Intent to WSU, 2013 walk-on Luke Falk has taken the bull by the horns and earned the right to be in a competitive position for the job.

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After a decent Crimson and Gray game saw him go 20-31 for 213 yards and a touchdown, Falk may had surpassed Bruggman ever-so-slightly heading to Summer workouts. This is a great example of what Mike Leach always preaches; the best players will play.

Not to say that the redshirt freshman hailing from Brophy Prep (Bruggman) won’t turn it up in the Fall, just saying he needs to if he wants to reclaim his predisposition. He seems to be struggling a little bit still with seeing the field faster from the gun, where he was an under-center QB during his prep career. You’d be surprised how much differently you see the field, along with the difference in the way plays develop in front of you. It’s a fairly simple adjustment, but it’s far from easy to master. Here’s his bio from WSU:

"Attended Brophy College Prepatory and played for coach Scooter Molander…as a SOPHOMORE, earned All-Region honorable mention after passing for 1,304 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions…as a JUNIOR, helped Brophy Prep to an 11-1 record…named Phoenix Metro Player of the Year by Arizona Republic after completing 156-of-259 passes for 2,497 yards and 37 touchdowns and two interceptions…as a SENIOR, guided Brophy Prep to an 11-3 record and earned all classification All-State second team by the Arizona Football Coaches Association…also named All-State Division I honorable mention by Arizona Republic, Division I Section III Offensive Player of the Year …completed 177-of-323 (.548) passes for 2,803 yards with 33 touchdowns and eight interceptions…also rushed for four touchdowns…threw for 300+ yards three times and tossed 3+ touchdowns seven times…threw for 368 yards and six touchdowns against Pinnacle High School….named to Academic All-State first team…rated four stars by ESPN.com, Rivals.com and Scout.com… one of 12 quarterbacks named to the Western 100 by the Tacoma News Tribune…ranked the No. 49 overall prospect in the West Top 150 by Scout.com…ranked the No. 18 quarterback prospect in the country by Rivals.com…ranked the No. 2 overall prospect and top quarterback prospect in Arizona by ESPN.com."

But Falk isn’t your average walk-on battling with him. Falk set some prolific Utah state passing records during his senior season two years ago, previously had earned a scholly offer from Florida State before moving high schools. This is what his bio looks like from WSU:

"Attended Logan High School in Logan, Utah…three-year letterwinner…as a SOPHOMORE, earned first-team All-Region and All-Valley League honors after passing for 1,486 yards and 17 touchdowns…went 132-for-210 and threw just four intercpetions…as a JUNIOR, attended Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, Calif.…as a SENIOR, earned first-team All-State and All-Region honors after throwing for 3,618 yards and 36 touchdowns…set Utah high school single-season records for pass attempts (562) and completions (330)…selected to play in the Utah High School All-Star game"

This kid wasn’t ranked very highly because after his transfer to Oaks Academy (one of the top prep high schools in the West), he was doing fine but ended up transferring back to Logan after just 3 games and had to sit out the rest of his junior season due to transfer rules. So yeah, Falk is probably more of a 4-star prospect than walk-on and the Cougs are just fortunate to have retained his services by flipping him from his original commitment to Cornell (who was offering what amounts to a full ride alongside Idaho and Wyoming).

Right now Falk has two other things going for him, size (6’4, 206) and early decision-making abilities. Both are significant in the battle at this point, but size probably won’t factor in as much in the long run. The air raid offense is based heavily on early decision making and anticipation. It seems like Falk has those in spades while Bruggman is still trying to catch up with the speed of the game at this level. Of course we don’t expect Bruggman’s struggles to continue for very much longer, but you never know.

When Falk originally committed as a walk-on I said “backup for life”, but that might not be the case anymore. I have to believe if the season began today Falk would be taking second team snaps but like I said, that could change in the Fall. Obviously the 4-star guy from Pheonix, whom Mike Leach dubbed last season as the hardest worker on the team, isn’t going to just lie down and fall by the wayside.

This should be one of the more intriguing battles we’ll be watching as the season nears. Both have the physical tools and either one could be a star for WSU down the road in the offense, it’s just a matter of who can grasp the offense and manage the opportunity.

As we look even further into the future, the Cougs have another kid coming in that fell off the recruiting radar his senior year and one who’s radar is just starting to lock in as he prepares for his final prep season; Peyton Bender and Tyler Hilinski.

Bender had to deal with an injury his senior season but was still offered by Penn State shortly after Mike Leach offered. He said nop thanks and that he planned on attending WSU no matter what, others like East Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky stopped calling. At 6’1″, 170 lbs he has a lightning-quick release and good anticipation, something that Leach covets.

Hilinski wasn’t the first choice of Leach this recruiting season (that honor belonged to Brett Rypien), but just a couple days after Rypien committed to Boise State, Leach was on the phones with Hilinski. It was only a week or two later that the big kid from Cali committed. He has tremendous footwork in the pocket and has more mobility than most kids his size. Cal, Penn and Utah State had offered but the 6’3″, 190 lbs Upland native relished the opportunity to play in a wide open offense, as all these QB’s did.

The Cougs are pretty well off in the quarterback ranks overall. Give any of these guys a couple years in the system and they could do damage to opposing defenses. Some will get more time than others and hopefully stick it out to make impacts later in their career here at WSU. For now, it’s Bruggman and Falk who will go at it all the way into next season most likely. But somebody has to earn the backup job now.