PULLMAN, Wash. -- As expected, Friday night's showdown between No. 5 USC and No. 16 Washington State featured a College Football Playoff contender and a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Not as expected: The Cougars are that team and their quarterback, Luke Falk, is that candidate.
Before a sold-out crowd of 33,773 and in one of the best atmospheres that Martin Stadium has ever seen, Washington State secured what could go down as one of the biggest wins in program history. Its 30-27 win over the Trojans is arguably its best regular-season win since 2002, when it beat USC in overtime on the way to the Rose Bowl. The score of that game? 30-27.
Surrounded by fans on the field in the aftermath, WSU coach Mike Leach likened the scene to a random point in history.
“It’s like Woodstock,” he said, “except everybody has their clothes on.”
Falk didn’t have a historical comparison, but he was impressed with what he saw.
“This was the best atmosphere since I’ve been here. We had a great five-week stretch and tonight was the icing on the cake,” Falk said. “Our fans really brought it and it was so fun to play -- I think they got the defense energized. They got us energized. It was a real tremendous atmosphere.”
At 5-0, the Cougars have every right to be part of the playoff conversation.
WSU's win against the Trojans will go down as an upset, but it never felt that way. Wazzu was simply the better team, and Falk, not presumed No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Darnold, was the better quarterback. The former walk-on broke ex-Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion's conference completions record (1,187) in the second quarter and finished 34-of-51 with 340 yards and two touchdowns and an interception.
In a conference that features several marquee quarterbacks, Falk often has hovered below the radar but that shouldn't continue. It shouldn't have happened in the first place, really, but now that Falk has a signature win to go along with all the stats, there's no reason he shouldn't be mentioned along with the country's best players.
Washington State outgained the Trojans, 462-327, eight Cougars caught at least two passes and Darnold was limited to just 154 yards on 15-of-29 passing.
USC's hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff took an obvious hit, but the Trojans aren't out of it. Last year, Washington absorbed a loss to USC, went on to win the Pac-12 and was selected as the No. 4 seed.
Can the Trojans do the same? Not if they play the way they did Friday night, nor for most of the month of September. There was a sense that at some point, they could put it all together, but it's harder now to have that view. Injuries are a real factor in that equation -- they were down three starting offensive linemen by halftime -- but that excuse means very little on a night like Friday.