The Washington St. Cougars might be 4-6, their head coach is approaching lame duck status, and need two big victories the next two weeks if they really want to feel like the season is a success.
But for at least this week, it has to be pretty good if you're a Cougar fan, because Washington State now has a THIRD option at quarterback, and the future looks pretty bright.
Connor Halliday ripped apart the Arizona St. Sun Devils on Saturday nightwith a rocket arm and impressive accuracy. Halliday relieved Marshall Lobbestael early in the game, and he tore apart ASU's defense. Arizona State's secondary didn't help themselves with some blown coverages (especially on Halliday's first deadly throw where he found a wide-open Marquess Wilson, but a lot of it was the WSU quarterback making his own plays.
Halliday was the second best QB in the state of Washington behind Jake Heaps; Heaps was a more polished product coming out, but Halliday was considered someone who had great upside as well. Brian Floyd of CougCenter talked about why the Cougars didn't give him a chance earlier.
Halliday has always had the physical tools to succeed. He's got a big arm, can make all the throws and has supreme confidence -- perhaps a cockiness -- in his abilities. However, until recently he'd been unable to grasp the offense and the complexity of the scheme. Being able to make all the throws in the world doesn't matter if they're not going to the right places.
About five weeks ago, everything started to click in practice. The streaky kid who could rip-off 20 perfect passes in a row while running the scout team finally began to understand the complexities of Sturdy's offense. His ability to diagnose a defense has improved rapidly, and his command of the offense at the line-of-scrimmage increased as a result.
On Saturday, it all came together in ways even those of us who have watched him closely outside of game situations couldn't imagine. He got hot early and, true to form, never slowed down. Once Halliday gets on a roll, it's best to just get out of his way and let him throw. When the game boils down to "see man, hit man" for the youngster, he's as dangerous as anyone.
Indeed he was.
Halliday used a little pump-fake to draw in one defender on what looked a short flat route before dialing it up outside on the fade for his second touchdown. He did a little scramble out of the pocket and fired a rocket that Jared Karstetter came up and adjusted to haul in. He stepped up into the pocket to evade the pass rush and found Isiah Barton on a deep route, then went through his reads later in the drive to hook up with Wilson again. He gave his receivers catchable balls in the middle and deep part of the field to keep Washington State moving and rolling to a very impressive comeback victory with an outstanding conference performance.
The Cougars and Sun Devils helped him out. Arizona State blew multiple coverages, and Washington State went into a max pass protect scheme on several crucial successful plays, with two to three backs staying into block to give Halliday more time; he's not as much of a threat to run as Jeff Tuel or Lobbestael, but with the way he played in the pocket Saturday it didn't really matter.
Halliday isn't likely to beat out Jeff Tuel as the Washington St. signal-caller next season, so his time will have to wait. But considering Washington State has hope at the most important position in football, the same should be said for the Cougars as their rise back to Pac-12 respectability continues.