When Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, a redshirt freshman, came in and threw four touchdowns and 494 yards against Arizona State in 2011, he looked like the real deal. When the Cougars hired Mike Leach and his Air Raid Offense in 2012, it seemed like only a matter of time before Halliday joined Leach’s former Texas Tech signal-callers atop the single-season passing records lists.
As ESPN’s Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast.”
Leach’s first season was not the smashing success WSU hoped it would be, and Halliday was locked into a season-long seesaw for the starting job with senior Jeff Tuel. Tuel had been a promising freshman quarterback a few years earlier, but various injuries kept the door cracked open for Halliday — he just didn’t do enough to bust through.
Tuel won the starting job before the 2012 season, but Halliday took over and started five games. Neither quarterback ever got into a rhythm because neither had a solid grip on the job. That inconsistency might have contributed to some of Halliday’s erratic performances. He had four games in which he threw for more than 300 yards, but he completed just 52.2% of his passes and he had an interception problem, with 13 interceptions to 15 touchdowns.
In his fourth year in the program, his second under Leach, and with Tuel out of the way, Halliday should be able not just to claim the starting job, but thrive in it.
Probably not really. Leach is notoriously close-lipped about the inner workings of his programs, and many coaches choose to officially keep position battles undecided longer than necessary to keep players working hard.
Apodaca did have a solid spring; he’s more mobile, which could be important behind a shaky offensive line, and he played in a similar spread offense in high school.
Even Leach said Apodaca had a case of the nerves in the spring game due to lack of experience, so unless Halliday takes a drastic turn for the worse, the starting job will more than likely be his when the 2013 season opens.
He’ll have to continue improving to keep it throughout the season as well as in the future, though. He threw fewer interceptions as spring progressed, and he capped it off by completing more than 65% of his passes in the spring game.
As Leach pointed out, Halliday missed last spring and the first part of the fall recovering from a lacerated liver, which he suffered the week after that record-setting performance against ASU in 2011. With more consistent work during practices and camps, WSU hopes he’ll be able to live up to his incredible potential.
If he does, watch out.