There’s no denying the arm talent of projected starting quarterback Connor Halliday with the Washington State Cougars. He has a strong arm that can get the ball to just about every spot on the field and he is fearless about throwing it into tight windows. The issue has been that some of those windows aren’t just tight, they’re completely closed and Halliday’s gunslinging mentality has buried the Cougars’ offense. If WSU hopes to turn things around in 2013, Halliday has to become a better game manager.
That might be easier said than done. Through Halliday’s first two seasons on campus, he has shown a desire to hit the big play, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Much of Mike Leach’s offense is predicated on making big plays in the passing game. Having a quarterback who will attack defenses vertically in the passing game is a prerequisite for success in Leach’s Air Raid attack.
The issue, however, is that Halliday looks for that home-run play on every single snap. Sometimes, you have to go to the underneath routes and check-downs and settle for first downs. Halliday, more times than not, is playing with a touchdown-or-bust mentality and will force the ball down the field trying to break the game open but more often than not, puts the Cougars in a deep hole.
Washington State, unfortunately, doesn’t have the talent level to get out of that hole, especially when they are going up against the premier teams in the Pac 12. As Halliday gets reckless with the football, the Cougars find themselves from being down one score to being down three and it only gets worse the harder Halliday tries to throw the team out of it. Even worse, that mentality makes it very difficult to hold onto leads what WSU is fortunate enough to have them.
Last season, the Cougars jumped out to a quick lead over the UNLV Rebels behind four touchdown passes from Halliday in the first half. With 5:27 to go in the second quarter, WSU was up 28-10 and looked like they were going to finish out a dominant win over an overmatched team. But a quick strike from the Rebels and a last second field goal closed the gap to just eight points as the Cougars offense went ice cold to close out the half.
The problem was that Halliday kept looking for the huge play down the field. After connecting on touchdown passes of 52 and 81-yards, Halliday seemed to be hooked and wouldn’t look for anything other than the deep ball. What he found was safety help over the top and plenty of it. Halliday finished the game with two interceptions and a 57 percent completion percentage. His inefficiency, coupled with a terrible performance from the secondary nearly cost them the game (and would cost them their next game against the Colorado Buffaloes).
Washington State isn’t good enough to overcome big mistakes from their quarterback. Halliday needs to reign in the gunslinging and start making better choices with the football. If he does and can become more efficient with the football, the WSU offense can be very dangerous to the rest of the Pac 12 in 2013. If he doesn’t and simply continues making poor decisions with the football, expect a lot of shootouts to end with self-inflicted wounds.