When Connor Halliday came off the bench late one rainy Saturday night in 2011 and threw for 494 yards and four touchdowns, it didn’t seem like there was any question he was the Washington State Cougars‘ quarterback of the future. When Mike Leach, of the Air Raid offense, was hired as the Cougars’ new head coach following that season, fans were excited.
What could a kid like Halliday do in an offense like Leach’s?
In 2012, it depended what game it was.
Halliday and senior Jeff Tuel both saw playing time, and Halliday wasn’t effective, consistent or accurate. He threw for more than 300 yards in four different games, but he completed just over half of his 290 pass attempts and finished with almost as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns (13).
Even with Tuel gone, Halliday isn’t a sure bet to become the new starting quarterback. He has an aggressive, gunslinger mentality, which helped him throw for more than 4,000 yards and 43 touchdowns as a senior in high school but which, as SBNation’s Bill Connelly points out, makes him a liability in Leach’s offense.
Halliday’s penchant for trying to make the big play when it isn’t there, at the expense of easy, short passes, won’t work. Instead, Connelly told Cougfan.com, a quarterback for Mike Leach must take what the defense gives him.
On the surface, the solution is simple: Halliday just has to make better reads and better choices. For a player who’s confident (or overconfident) in his own ability and is accustomed to looking downfield for the big play, his entire approach must change.
Before the 2012 season, Halliday’s high school football coach Jim Sharkey told The Seattle Times:
“Since the day I’ve met him, at the end of his sophomore year, that’s the type of quarterback he is. And occasionally you live with a few mistakes or turnovers. But he’s going to make a lot of big plays.“
He won’t get a chance to make a lot of big plays if he makes more than a very few mistakes, because Leach isn’t going to live with it. He kept going back to Tuel because the senior played smarter and completed 11.6% more of his passes than Halliday, and the coach could give redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca, who battled with Halliday throughout spring, a shot if the junior doesn’t play with greater discipline in 2013.
Halliday, like Leach, didn’t meet expectations in 2012 — but perhaps the expectations on the young quarterback and the new coach were too high. Halliday was impressive as a redshirt freshman, but he only played in a few games, and he missed the end of the year and the offseason recovering from a lacerated liver.
With a full year and a full offseason to learn the offense and better understand his role within it, Halliday could either blossom into the quarterback many hoped he would or fall by the wayside in a system that just doesn’t quite fit.
Cougar football will be much more fun to watch this season if he can adapt and improve, because he has far too much talent to spend 2013 on the bench.