Welcome back to our Player of the Week feature. While thinking about the direction of this particular post, there was a significant range of emotions on the author's part. Midway through the first quarter, it was looking like the most valuable person would be the pilot who flew ASU out of town before they inflicted more damage on our beloved Cougars. Luckily for all of those whose favorite colors are crimson and gray, the team turned things around in a big way by the time the game ended.
I rarely think about this while the game is going on, as I'm usually more stressed out than an adult should be when it comes to the whims of college football players. Saturday was different. As the Cougars fell behind 21-17, it was difficult to pinpoint one particular player who was standing above the rest. The quarterback wasn't having a great game. The running backs were almost nonexistent. The defense, while keeping ASU out of the endzone, wasn't making any "wow" plays. Then the fourth quarter happened, and everything began to fall into place, kind of.
Once the fourth quarter began, the team began making all kinds of plays. Luke Falk was lighting it up. Peyton Pelluer and company were stoning ball carriers. Robert Lewis was shaking loose. Kyle Sweet was stepping up. Dom Williams was being Dom Williams. Darrien Molton was picking off a pass to clinch the victory. Suddenly, we had gone from zero deserving candidates to several. Again, great problem to have! Let's get to it.
Honorable Mention - Luke Falk: You know Falk is having a hell of a season when he throws for just under 500 yards and five touchdowns and doesn't even finish in the top three. That's how good he's been this season. At halftime, Falk was averaging 5.3 yards-per-attempt. When the game ended, Falk averaged nine yards-per attempt. That, ladies and gentlemen, means Falk had a hell of a second half. He carved up the blitz-happy ASU defense down the stretch, and didn't flinch in the face of pressure.
EDIT: After this was written, and in an attempt to make me look like even more of an idiot than usual, Luke Falk won his FOURTH CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE WEEK AWARD IN 12 STARTS. Come on, Luke, it would be cool if you were willing to share a little. Additionally, Falk deserves the code-breaker award for figuring out whatever the hell this means:
Mike Leach zings Arizona State for stealing signs: https://t.co/DWFRM5heQ2 https://t.co/EfUabuRNKN— SB Nation (@SBNation) November 8, 2015
The tiny delay between the "high five" and backward "Hook 'em" signals, coupled with the semi-exaggerated torso rotation, makes me laugh every time.
2nd Runner-Up: Peyton Pelluer
After the first quarter ended, there was little-to-no chance that a defensive player would appear anywhere near the top three. Luckily, games are rarely decided in the first quarter. Pelluer led a defensive unit that only gave up 10 points in the final 53 minutes. The lone touchdown they gave up came after they earned a stop, only to see in undone by a fake punt. Pelluer finished with nine tackles, 1.5 of them for a loss, and seemed to be the man on the spot every time WSU absolutely had to make a stop. Oh, and he's only a sophomore.
1st Runners-Up: Eduardo Middleton, Jacob Seydel and Gunnar Eklund
What if I told you that WSU would be without its best offensive lineman, and that the ripple effect would cause more than half of the guys to switch positions? What if I then told you that, despite the huge shuffle, and despite ASU having the being the most blitz-heavy and sack-happy team in the conference, the retooled offensive line wouldn't allow a sack in the game's final 48 minutes? That is amazing, and a testament to the depth that Mike Leach and Clay McGuire have built on WSU's offensive line. Middleton, Seydel and Eklund were all playing new positions Saturday. They all deserve to be recognized.
Winners: The Receivers
I couldn't figure out which guy stood above the rest, so why not give the award to all of them? Let's start with Kyle Sweet. Sweet caught seven passes for 77 yards, including a 36-yarder that set up the game-winning touchdown. Not bad for a true freshman. Sweet is only slightly downgraded for juking himself into a face full of turf. Happens to the best of us, Kyle. Speaking of that game winning TD, John Thomson snagged it, and it was the first of his career. Thompson did an outstanding job of staying off his knees and stretching the ball over the goalline, providing the winning points.
Gabe Marks did Gabe Marks things, including almost taking a punt back to the endzone. He "only" caught six balls for 65 yards, but five of those catches resulted in first downs, and two of them came on fourth down. Then there's Robert Lewis. Lewis caught three passes for a whopping 97 yards, including two explosive plays of 38 and 47. The 47-yarder came after Lewis caught a 12-yard pass that got WSU away from its own goalline. That drive ended up going the full 99, thanks in no small part to Mr. Lewis.
Finally, there's Dom Williams. After an early drop killed a drive, Williams came up huge when it mattered most. He caught his first touchdown pass on fourth down, and it got WSU back in the game. Then, when WSU could really use a big play, Williams provided it, taking a short pass and outracing everybody to the endzone. Touchdown. Game over. In all, the WSU receivers caught 27 passes for 396 yards and three touchdowns. For my money, they were the best unit either team had Saturday.