The Washington State Cougars came up short in their season opener against the Auburn Tigers and started off the 2013 season on the wrong foot yet again. The good news for the Cougs was that the team was at least competitive in the 31-24 loss with multiple chances to tie the game late. Unfortunately for WSU, their quarterback Connor Halliday sabotaged their chances with terrible fourth quarter play.
On the day, Halliday completed 35 of 65 passes for 344 yards with one touchdown, but fell into old bad habits and threw three interceptions. When he was in control of the offense, Halliday was a confident and competent leader, engineering efficient drives and converting first downs. The young receiving corps looked in sync in those phases and produced some explosive results.
In the fourth quarter, however, Halliday completed just five of 16 passes for 39 yards with an interception. He looked flustered and lost, often missing open receivers and hurling the ball wildly over his intended targets. The Cougars were in a great position to tie the game twice late in the game until Halliday killed the drives. First, he threw an ill-advised lob pass into double-coverage in the endzone which ended up as an interception and then overthew his receiver by a mile on a fourth-down conversion attempt.
Halliday’s inability to come up big when the game was on the line is indicative of a serious issue with the Washington State offense as a whole. The pieces appeared to be coming together at times on Saturday, but for them to get to the next level and find real lasting success under Mike Leach, they need a quarterback who can deliver in the clutch.
There were concerns about Halliday’s ability to deliver in those situations before the season started. He has earned a reputation as a reckless “gunslinger” who puts passes in the air often with no more thought than a hope and a prayer. That came back to bite the Cougs in a major way against Auburn and will continue to be a stumbling block for WSU until he pulls his game together.
If Halliday can’t get it together and stop sabotaging the Cougars in big spots like he did on Saturday, Leach may have to look to somebody else to be his starting quarterback. Will the junior signal caller be able to pull it together or will the Cougars suffer another season of quarterback instability?