WSU notebook: Despite his turnovers, Halliday still holding on for Cougars
Seattle Times staff reporter
LOS ANGELES — After two games of the 2013 football season, the Washington State quarterback job appears to belong solely to junior Connor Halliday, but 2012 might suggest Halliday needs to stay on guard.
Halliday had another two interceptions, one extremely costly, but completed 26 of 38 passes for 215 yards in the 10-7 victory Saturday night over USC.
Last week, Halliday threw for 344 yards at Auburn, and although he was intercepted three times, the performance seemed to solidify his status as the No. 1 guy in front of redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca.
Halliday had an up-and-down 2012 season, sharing time with Jeff Tuel while throwing 15 touchdown passes with 13 interceptions.
Pass-happy WSU coach Mike Leach had a plan for attacking USC’s aggressive defense Saturday, and for most of the game, it worked well. Halliday avoided USC’s defensive front by taking short drops and getting rid of the ball quickly.
The quick-strike offense kept USC’s defense on its heels, and midway through the first quarter, the Cougars went 74 yards and had a third-and-goal at the USC 9.
Halliday spotted a receiver in the end zone, but USC cornerback Torin Harris made a nice play on the ball and got the interception to keep the game scoreless.
Two series later, USC safety Dion Bailey intercepted Halliday at the WSU 43, but given a great opportunity to extend their 7-0 lead, the Trojans punted after they gained 1 yard on three plays.
Often criticized for throwing the deep ball — or throwing dangerously — when shorter passes might be available, Halliday has said he began to make major strides last spring. He had missed the 2012 spring — Leach’s first with the program — recovering from a lacerated liver.
“He really accelerated in the spring, and to the end of (fall) camp,” Leach said this week. “And in the offseason, as far as throwing over the summer.”
At Auburn, the Cougars were in position to tie the game twice in the final minutes before losing 31-24. Halliday called it “probably the best game I’ve ever had.”
Also arguing for Halliday is his veteran work at the line of scrimmage. He checked successfully at the line a few times at Auburn, including once to a run on fourth-and-five.
Still, there were the interceptions, as Halliday sometimes takes ill-advised risks. That’s the hedge against him being able to stake an unadulterated ownership of the No. 1 spot over Apodaca.
Said Leach, “We still need to iron out some things where he makes too much happen.”
Leach said he hadn’t coached a game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but attended a Los Angeles Raiders game there while in law school at Pepperdine in the ’80s.
“A fella in a San Diego Chargers T-shirt was sitting in one of the front rows,” Leach said. “By the time the Raider fans were done, they’ve ripped off the guy’s T-shirt, passed it up the seats and thrown it over the back of the Coliseum.
“At least for Raiders games, it was a pretty lively place.”
• With WSU’s willingness to throw the ball 60-plus times a game, it’s only a matter of time before the school record for individual attempts falls. That’s 66 by Drew Bledsoe — against, oddly enough, Montana in 1992.
• USC outside linebacker Marquis Simmons’ brother Melvin (Champ) Simmons lettered at WSU (1999-2000) before transferring to USC.
• Last week marked the start of USC’s 125th year of athletic competition. It first played football in 1888.
• USC’s conference “misses’ this year are Oregon and Washington. It’s the first time since 1928 neither team is on the schedule.
• Zach Banner, the 6-foot-9, 345-pound redshirt freshman from Lakes High, is the No. 2 right tackle for USC behind senior Kevin Graf.
The Orange County (Calif.) Register contributed to this report.