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Originally published Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 8:01 PM

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Cougars could have a gunslinger at QB if Connor Halliday gets the start

Halliday getting more snaps in practice as Tuel recovers from injury

The Spokane Spokesman-Review


Washington State @ UNLV, 6 p.m., ESPN

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PULLMAN — Perhaps it's fitting that Connor Halliday's first start of the 2012 season might come in Las Vegas.

He's confident, a "gunslinger," according to his high-school coach, and brings an aggressive, eyes-downfield mentality to the quarterback position that some fans have clamored for since his brilliant game passing for 494 yards against Arizona State last season as a freshman.

That kind of swagger can manifest itself in one of two ways.

"Since the day I've met him, at the end of his sophomore year, that's the type of quarterback he is," said Jim Sharkey, who coached Halliday at Ferris High in Spokane. "And occasionally you live with a few mistakes or turnovers. But he's going to make a lot of big plays."

The latter, then, is what Washington State will hope for if Halliday is indeed given his second career start Friday at 6 p.m. against UNLV.

Jeff Tuel, who started WSU's first two games but left in the fourth quarter of the victory last week over Eastern Washington with an apparent right knee injury, has done some throwing at practice this week but hasn't taken any snaps with the No. 1 offense.

Tuel, wearing a knee brace, watched again Wednesday as Halliday worked as the team's starting quarterback.

Coach Mike Leach hasn't addressed, and says he never will address, the severity of Tuel's injury, though the senior has been able to do some light jogging and has shown an upbeat attitude in practice this week.

The coach did say, however, that he likes what he's seen from Halliday.

"Thought he's operated good, operated quick and thought he's done a lot of really good things from the neck up," Leach said. "He's a guy that's really taken advantage of his time in the film room and practice, even though he's started out with not as many reps. So I think he's really done good and capitalized on his time."

Even though Halliday — who isn't available for media interviews this week — showed enough promise last year to be considered a legitimate candidate to start this season, it surprised nobody when Tuel won the starting job during camp. He had more reps in the offense, due to Halliday's recovery in the spring from a lacerated liver suffered against Utah last season, and Leach liked Tuel's experience.

Halliday attended practices in the spring and did some throwing, but told reporters later that he could barely stand the pain.

"The spring ball was very tough on him, then it really started improving in the summer as he felt better," Sharkey said. "He felt really strongly that he had a great fall camp."

His brief appearance in relief of Tuel on Saturday yielded mixed results. Halliday completed 5 of 11 passes for 76 yards.

The good: a 36-yard completion to Gabe Marks, WSU's longest play from scrimmage this season.

The bad (sort of): an interception thrown at EWU's 7-yard line on third-and-four, though the decision to throw the pass wasn't the problem. Halliday simply didn't put enough distance on it.

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