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Falk gets first start against Beavers

CORVALLIS — A year after walking on at Washington State, redshirt freshman quarterback Luke Falk is a starter.

There is a simple reason that Falk rose so quickly to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Connor Halliday, according to coach Mike Leach: “He works harder than anybody else on the team.”

Falk will start today at Oregon State in place of Halliday, the Cougars’ longtime starter who broke his ankle last weekend in the first quarter of the Cougars’ 44-17 loss to USC. The injury ended the prolific senior passer’s college career.

Falk stepped in and threw for 370 yards and two touchdowns against the Trojans.

“We don’t have to change anything,” Leach said on the Pac-12 coaches’ teleconference this week. “He’s a little ahead of schedule. He’s a smart and intelligent student of the game.”

Last year, Leach promised Falk that if he improved enough to become Halliday’s backup, he’d get a scholarship. He earned one this summer.

But he’ll face a challenge in Oregon State, which has allowed opponents just seven touchdown passes this season, while pulling down nine interceptions. The Beavers’ pass defense ranks second in the conference behind Stanford.

Washington State (2-7, 1-5 Pac-12) has lost four straight, while the Beavers (4-4, 1-4) have lost three in a row, including last weekend’s 45-31 loss at home to California. With three games left following the game against the Cougars, Oregon State is still fighting for bowl eligibility.

Here are some other things to consider when the Cougars visit the Beavers:

HALLIDAY’S RECORDS: The Spokane product finishes his career with 11,304 yards passing, the most in Washington State history and fourth-best ever in the Pac-12. His 90 touchdown passes are also a school record and rank third in Pac-12 history. When he got hurt, Halliday was the nation’s passing leader with 3,873 yards and 32 touchdowns.

MANNION’S RECORDS: Oregon State senior quarterback Sean Mannion now holds the Pac-12 record for career passing yards in the Pac-12 with 12,454. He is on pace to finish the season with 13,424, good for ninth on the NCAA’s career list. After he surpassed former USC quarterback Matt Barkley’s previous mark of 12,327 during the game against Cal last weekend, Mike Riley congratulated him on the sidelines. “He just said, ‘Let’s just win this game, coach,’ “ Riley said.

HISTORY: Washington State holds a 48-47-3 lead in the overall series between the two teams that dates back to 1903. The series is the seventh-longest in the Pac-12, tied with the Beavers’ series against Washington. Oregon State has won the last three.

THE LAST TIME: The Beavers scored five unanswered touchdowns, including four in the fourth quarter, and beat the Cougars 52-24 in Pullman last year. Mannion threw for a school-record 493 yards and four scores, while Brandin Cooks — now with the New Orleans Saints — had 171 yards in total offense and three touchdowns, two via pass and one via rush.

AND SOMETHING ABOUT POTATOES: Both the Washington and Oregon potato commissions have pledged to donate 500 pounds of potatoes for every point scored to food banks in the winning team’s state. Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger will also be on hand at the game if fans wish to donate to the cause.