A day after Washington State quarterback passed for 514 yards and five touchdowns in a win at Arizona, Cougars coach Mike Leach offered the biggest possible compliment.
"Luke is the best quarterback in the country and he's only a sophomore," Leach said Sunday on ESPNNews.
He might get a few arguments about that, but his point is well taken.
Falk has the Cougars on a three-game winning streak -- their first in conference play since 2003 -- and he has thrown for 1,426 yards, with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions in that stretch, which began with an overtime win at Oregon.
His 514 passing yards Saturday were the most ever against Arizona. Falk was selected the Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week. Early in the second quarter against the Wildcats, he had already completed passes to nine different players.
"I think it is really important," Leach said of the spreading the wealth.
"Of course, we will prioritize them a little bit, and the defense dictates that, too, with where the space is. But he has done that really well at an early age. He is able to do that under pressure, yet calmly stay out of his own way and gradually and consistently build on his skills.
"I think he has done a really good job with that."
Inevitably, Falk will be labeled a "system quarterback" because he plays in Leach's pass-happy Air Raid attack. But, at 6-foot-4, he has NFL stature and will continue to put on weight as he continues to set the college football world on fire with his accurate arm.
He is the only quarterback in the country to have two 500-yard passing days this season. He is second in the nation with 412.1 passing yards per game. He is 16th nationally in efficiency with a rating of 155.6.
Falk will be in the spotlight this week like never before as Washington State plays host to eight-ranked Stanford.
"We are still a young team," Leach said of his 5-2 Cougars. "I think we felt like we could do some great things if we stuck together. We did not have all the pieces in place early ... but we have steadily improved on playing together."
ARIZONA (5-3, 2-3)
Game: Washington State 45, Arizona 42. The Wildcats, trailing 38-21 in the third quarter, turned to backup QB Jerrard Randall for the second consecutive game ... and for the second consecutive game, he provided a spark. A week earlier, he directed a comeback win at Colorado. On Saturday, he completed 11-of-16 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns and ran 10 times for 105 yards. The Wildcats got within 38-35, but WSU scored a touchdown with 2:03 to go, which was enough cushion. Randall led a final TD drive, but the Cougars recovered an onside kick with 44 seconds left.
Takeaway: Arizona has major problems on an injury-plagued defense, and there are no easy answers there. Washington State's Luke Falk passed for 514 yards and completed 47-of-62 passes. One of the few personnel buttons that coach Rich Rodriguez can push is to make Randall his starting quarterback over Anu Solomon, who hasn't looked sharp since suffering a concussion Sept. 26 against UCLA and missing a game. Randall is a fantastic runner who had a decent outing passing the ball Saturday. "People talk about all these quarterbacks that can run," said WSU coach Mike Leach, "and that kid can really run."
Next: at Washington, Oct. 31
ARIZONA STATE (4-3, 2-2)
Next: vs. Oregon, Oct. 29
CAL (5-2, 2-2)
Game: UCLA 40, Cal 24. The Bears couldn't contain UCLA true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, who passed for 399 yards in a Thursday night game that knocked 20th-ranked Cal from the AP poll. The Bears allowed UCLA to score on its first seven possessions, and their offense also struggled, allowing QB Jared Goff to be sacked five times. Goff completed 32-of-53 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns.
Takeaway: Cal won a series of close games -- at Texas, at Washington, vs. Washington State -- in building a 5-0 record that got everyone's hopes up in Berkeley. But a turnover-filled loss at Utah and a non-competitive loss at the Rose Bowl has tempered those big-bowl dreams into any-good-bowl dreams. It's very possible that Cal will be favored only once in its final five games -- USC, at Oregon, Oregon State, at Stanford, Arizona State.
Next: vs. USC, Oct. 31
COLORADO (4-4, 1-3)
Game: Colorado 17, Oregon State 13. The Buffs finally ended their Pac-12 drought, ending a 14-game losing streak within conference by holding on to win in Corvallis. Junior quarterback Sefo Liufau threw for 140 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score. Colorado went up 17-10 early in the fourth quarter on Liufau's 4-yard run, then gave up a field goal on OSU's ensuing possession. While the CU offense then put up three consecutive three-and-outs, the defense held firm and sealed the win with an interception from Chidobe Awuzie at the Buffs 38 with 24 seconds to go.
Takeaway: Colorado has come oh-so-close to a Pac-12 win during its nearly two-year skid -- including a week earlier in a 38-31 home loss to Arizona -- and the Buffs finally have a tangible result that shows their progress. "The kids just kept coming back and coming back," coach Mike MacIntyre said after the game. "They just kept believing. It's really, really special." Colorado committed nine penalties and gained only 328 yards, but, hey, a win's a win, even if comes against the worst team in the Pac-12. "It wasn't pretty," MacIntyre said, "but I'll take an ugly win every day."
Next: at UCLA, Oct. 31
OREGON (4-3, 2-2)
Next: at Arizona State, Oct. 29.
OREGON STATE (2-5, 0-4)
Game: Colorado 17, Oregon State 13. The Beavers had a shot to win in the final minute, but Nick Mitchell was intercepted on fourth-and-6 from the Colorado 40. His pass was picked by Chidobe Awuzie at the 38 with 24 seconds left. Oregon State, after closing within 17-13 with a field goal in the fourth quarter, had three possessions but came up empty each time. RB Ryan Nall ran for 122 yards and a touchdown for the Beavers, who are now the only team in the Pac-12 without a conference win. OSU has lost four consecutive games.
Takeaway: Mitchell, a redshirt freshman, made his Oregon State debut on Saturday, splitting time with true freshman QB Seth Collins in the first half and then getting the majority of the snaps after halftime. Mitchell isn't nearly the runner that Collins is, but the hope was that he could bring more to the passing game. Mitchell, though, was just 9-of-24 for 122 yards with an interception. He also was sacked four times. Coach Gary Andersen will keep kicking the tires, though, saying that Collins and Mitchell will both get time in the final month of the season as OSU searches for a conference win.
Next: at Utah, Oct. 31
SOUTHERN CAL (4-3, 2-2)
Game: USC 42, Utah 24. The Trojans flashed their immense potential by taking down the third-ranked Utes, who entered the game with a 6-0 record. Freshman linebacker Cameron Smith intercepted three passes, returning the second for a 54-yard touchdown, as USC ended a two-game skid and got interim head coach Clay Helton a victory in his debut at the Coliseum. Cody Kessler passed for 264 yards and a touchdown, and sophomore receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was sensational, making eight catches for 143 yards and going viral on the internet for a stiff-arm that flattened a Utah defender.
Takeaway: Now, this was the USC that everyone was expecting. Perhaps this performance proved that the Trojans can get out of their own way, put the midseason firing of coach Steve Sarkisian behind them and still make a run at the Pac-12 title. The Trojans will need a little bit of help, but they trail Utah by only one game, have a win over Arizona State (2-2 in the league) and still have to play UCLA (also 2-2 in the league). So, they don't need THAT much help. "When you believe, and you have a team like we do, and you just believe in the family, you can go far with it," said USC offensive lineman Khaliel Rodgers. "We just believe in each other."
Next: at Cal, Oct. 31
STANFORD (6-1, 5-0)
Game: Stanford 31, Washington 14. Running back Christian McCaffrey, who entered the weekend leading the nation in all-purpose yards, improved his season average by rolling to 300 yards against a Washington defense that entered the game leading the Pac-12 in total defense and scoring defense. The Cardinal, which won its sixth consecutive game, put up 478 yards of offense and became the first team this season to score more than 30 points against the Huskies. McCaffrey ran for 109 yards, had 112 on receptions and had 79 kick return yards.
Takeaway: McCaffrey has emerged as the team's star and Heisman candidate, but senior QB Kevin Hogan has become the team's heartbeat. He was 17-of-24 for 290 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, against the Huskies. "His leadership, I think, has been huge for us," coach David Shaw said. "He's been as efficient as any quarterback in college football over the last month and a half. He just really has. Making great decisions. ... He's back to being hard to tackle. I couldn't be more proud of where Kevin is right now." The Cardinal rolls on, but beware of a surging WSU team this week in Pullman.
Next: at Washington State, Oct. 31
UCLA (5-2, 2-2)
Game: UCLA 40, Cal 24. True freshman Josh Rosen was sharp, completing 34-of-47 passes for 399 yards and three touchdowns, setting the school single-game record for completions. Wide receivers Thomas Duarte (10 for 141) and Devin Fuller (seven for 100) each had 100-yard receiving days. The Bruins scored on their first seven possessions to take a 33-10 lead early in the third quarter as they were never really challenged. UCLA ended a two-game losing streak and squeezed back into the AP poll at No. 24.
Takeaway: Everyone knew Rosen had greatness in him, so the big game shouldn't be a surprise, although it is fair to expect some ups-and-downs before the season is over. Perhaps more encouraging was an injury-plagued defense that sacked Cal QB Jared Goff five times and held the Air Raid in check after being gashed for 444.5 yards in the previous four games. UCLA should be able to build momentum in the next two weeks against Colorado and Oregon State. The Bruins are a game behind Utah in the South, but have a game left with the Utes in Salt Lake City on Nov. 21, which precedes the season-ender at USC. Dreams of a Pac-12 division title are very much in UCLA's own hands.
Next: vs. Colorado, Oct. 31
UTAH (6-1, 3-1)
Game: USC 42, Utah 24. The Utes' magical season hit a big speed bump, as quarterback Travis Wilson was picked off four times -- three by freshman linebacker Cameron Smith, who returned one for a touchdown just before halftime for a 28-14 lead. Utah PK Andy Phillips kicked a 53-yard field goal with five seconds to go in the half to trim the lead to 11, but that was as close as the Utes would get. Utah wouldn't score again until Wilson connected with receiver Britain Covey on a 66-yard pass with four minutes to go in the game. Utah RB Devontae Booker was held to 62 yards on 14 carries.
Takeaway: No doubt, this was a big hit to Utah's reputation, as the Utes dropped from third to 13th in the AP poll. Whether they could climb into the College Football Playoff, even if they run the table, is uncertain.
"Wow, credit USC, they came to play today," said Utah LB Gionni Paul. "Didn't expect to get punched in the mouth like that. It was a reality check. I had forgotten what it was like to lose. It's a bad feeling. Got to back to work Monday." Let's not overreact. Utah still leads the South. Its schedule isn't that formidable -- Oregon State, at Washington, at Arizona, UCLA, Colorado. The game against the Bruins loom large, but the other four matchups are against teams from the lower half of the Pac-12.
Next: vs. Oregon State, Oct. 31
WASHINGTON (3-4, 1-3)
Game: Stanford 31, Washington 14. The Huskies were without starting quarterback Jake Browning, so redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels made his first start in a tight spot at powerful Stanford. Carta-Samuels, who had attempted only three passes before Saturday night, struggled early as the Cardinal took control. He was 3-of-10 for 17 yards in the first half, finishing 9-of-21 for 118 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. The Washington defense, which entered the game leading the Pac-12 in total defense and scoring defense, gave up 478 yards to Stanford, which became the first team this season to score more than 30 points against the Huskies.
Takeaway: Stanford coach David Shaw came away impressed with the Huskies, calling them "very, very underrated" and "physical." There's no word if Browning will be back this week from his shoulder injury, but long-term, he's part of an exciting youth movement that includes classmate Myles Gaskin, who ran for 108 yards against Stanford. "I love the running back," Shaw said. "He's got a chance to be really, really special." Gaskin is the first Washington true freshman to rush for 100 yards in three consecutive games.
Next: vs. Arizona, Oct. 31
WASHINGTON STATE (5-2, 3-1)
Game: Washington State 45, Arizona 42. Luke Falk passed for 514 yards and five touchdowns -- four to receiver Gabe Marks -- as the Cougars held off Arizona to win their third consecutive game. Falk, who had 335 yards at the half, completed 47-of-62 passes without an interception. Protecting a 38-35 lead, Washington State coach Mike Leach went for it on fourth-and-inches from the UA 6 with about 2:45 to go. Falk converted on a sneak, then, after a delay of game penalty, hit Marks on a 9-yard score with 2:03 to go. Arizona's ensuing touchdown with 44 seconds left became meaningless when the Cougars recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
Takeaway: Washington State is playing with a lot of confidence, winning five of six games after losing its season-opener to lower-division Portland State. It's been a long time since the Cougars were on this kind of a roll. They haven't won three consecutive league games since 2003; they haven't been 5-2 since 2003; and they hadn't scored 40-plus points in three consecutive games since 2001. More than all that, Washington State controls its destiny in the Pac-12 North. Martin Stadium will be rocking Saturday against division-leading Stanford, which is 5-0 in the conference.
Next: vs. Stanford, Oct. 31
--UCLA RB Paul Perkins sustained a knee injury against Cal late in the second quarter and did not return to the game. After the game, coach Jim Mora described that injury -- as well as one to LB Isaako Savaiinaea as "not good."
Turns out, the news on Perkins turned out to be pretty good.
Testing revealed no ligament damage and he isn't expected to miss much time. Perkins, last season's Pac-12 rushing leader, has carried 125 times for 754 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Stay tuned for updates on Savaiinaea, who has a team-high 49 tackles.
--Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez ripped the Pac-12 last week for its scheduling, although the league is mostly at the mercy of its TV partners in that regard. The school did send a request to the league for help in getting a day game at Washington this Saturday, but the matchup was slotted into an 8 p.m. PT window on FOX Sports1. That's the latest kickoff in the country on Saturday.
That means that even with a chartered flight, Arizona will return to Tucson at about 5 a.m. and then has to go on the road again at USC the following week. Remember, Rodriguez is still steamed that his team doesn't have a bye while playing 12 consecutive weeks, another quirk of the Pac-12 schedule.
"If the conference is really concerned about student-athlete welfare, I think someone should step in, because when do guys get a chance to get healthy?" Rodriguez said. "They are not getting treatments on the plane. They can try to sleep, but they are not getting a whole lot of rest when they are traveling. It is just ridiculous in my opinion."
--UCLA lined up to kick a 55-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the first half against Cal, but a false start penalty made it a 60-yard try. Mora said he initially planned on putting his offense back on the field for a Hail Mary, but holder Jerry Neuheisel convinced the coach to give PK Ka'imi Fairbairn a shot. He made it, marking the longest field goal of his career.
"That was a big adrenaline rush and a boost to our momentum," said Mora, whose team went up 26-10 at the break.
--USC freshman linebacker Cameron Smith became the first Trojan since Jason Oliver in 1991 to intercept three passes in a game. "I just read his eyes a couple times and got lucky," Smith said about Utah QB Travis Wilson.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He doesn't throw those balls back across his body into coverage. He has learned to make better decisions in the open field. ... His understanding of our offense, of his receivers and what they do well and just his confidence. He is a confident kid as it is, but as you have success, you gain confidence." -- UCLA coach Jim Mora, on the biggest improvements made by freshman QB Josh Rosen since the beginning of the season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 8 IN THE PAC-12:
1. The L.A. schools made a stand. USC and UCLA haven't had the dream seasons many expected, but they each came out fighting when their backs were to the wall last week. Neither can afford another loss in league play, and they played with the proper sense of urgency in impressive wins. "These guys want to prove to everybody what type of team they are," USC interim coach Clay Helton said of his team's win over Utah. "When we play together and play like we did tonight, they're a very hard football team to beat. There's a lot of talent in that room."
2. Ignore any Heisman list that doesn't include Christian McCaffrey. The Stanford sophomore leads the nation with 259.7 yards per game, which is 40 more than the second-place guy. "I'm at the point where I don't know what else I can say other than watch him," said Stanford coach David Shaw. "Just watch him. He's so quick; he's so explosive. The little guy never gets tired."
3. Utah's turnover margin was not sustainable. The Utes didn't rank all that high nationally in any major offensive or defensive category entering last weekend but had been propped up, in part, by a turnover margin of plus-2.0 per game. That flipped around to minus-3 at USC.
4. It's all building up to Stanford-Notre Dame. Each team has other challenges ahead, but the Cardinal and Fighting Irish remain on a collision course for a Nov. 28 game on The Farm. If both teams head into the game with one loss, this will be a College Football Playoff eliminator. Let the hype begin.
5. USC remembered it was a good running team. The Trojans have abandoned the ground game at times this season in their losses. Against Utah, they ran 44 times and attempted just 29 passes. That's better. "We really preached physicality this week," Helton said.