It started with a tweet noting that Washington State Cougars starting quarterback Luke Falk was sporting a cast on his left hand, continued with a series of photos and videos where Falk was doing his best to conceal the cast, and now it’s official: Falk is out for tonight’s Holiday Bowl against the Michigan State Spartans.
Falk’s backup, Tyler Hilinski, took the first team reps during warmups.
This morning, Cale Ramaker, formerly of KIRO TV in Seattle, tweeted:
I’m being told from people close to WSU Football that Luke Falk had surgery on his left wrist after the A.C. His playing in Holiday Bowl is not guaranteed. #gocougs— Cale Ramaker (@CaleRamaker) December 28, 2017
The last part was confirmed by CougCenter sources, who indicated that Falk was unlikely to play.
Falk has taken some vicious punishment in his three-plus years as starter, presumably suffering his fair share of injuries, and yet he’s almost always been able to play through them — he’s only missed one start since taking over for Connor Halliday in 2014.
Now, Hilinski is in the spotlight. He led the team to a second-half comeback victory over Boise State in September and then very nearly did the same against Arizona — both games in which Falk was benched for ineffective play.
It led to a spirited debate among fans as to who should be the starting quarterback going forward, given Falk’s well-documented issues with inconsistency this season, in which the offense gets — as Mike Leach calls it — “constipated” under Falk’s leadership. Ultimately, Leach decided to stick with his senior, and it paid off with wins over Stanford and Utah before another stinker in the Apple Cup.
The fans who clamored for Hilinski now get their chance to see what the third-year sophomore can do before he presumably takes the reins of the Air Raid next season.
Hilinski proved to be more decisive and aggressive with his throws than Falk, leading to much greater yardage output with him taking the snaps than when Falk had been playing in those games. However, he also proved to be more turnover prone — leading fans to compare him to early versions of Connor Halliday.
It will be fascinating to see if Hilinski’s aggressiveness is part and parcel of who he is as a quarterback, or if it was partly a function of the game state, in which the Cougs needed some big plays in order to get back into a losing effort. Will he dial it back a little if the game is 0-0?
Another part of the equation: Hilinski gets no soft landing in this one. The Michigan State defense is excellent and unlike what he faced against Boise State and Arizona. However, the Spartans will have to deal with a moving target, as Hilinski’s mobility brings another dimension with his legs that Falk does not.
This is likely to inject some serious life into a game that, with Falk taking snaps, seemed initially to have the all the ingredients for a slug fest on the order of last years Holiday Bowl against Minnesota.