Washington State was merely three (THAT’S RIGHT ONLY 3(!)) Connor Halliday mistakes from beating Auburn last Saturday on the road. Granted, a couple of Good Hands plays by Auburn could have made that a bigger number and there were plenty of Auburn mistakes too, but as it is they made him pay for three plays that would have and should have made the difference for the Cougs to not only get to overtime, but to very possibly win the game in regulation.
The first happened on a tipped pass that really wasn’t anybody’s fault on the hookup, but presented a major problem for me in another regard. Brett Bartolone couldn’t make a catch on a ball that was correctly thrown to the back shoulder to avoid the middle backer, and B.B. couldn’t do much but flail at it, bouncing it into the air for a defender to pick and return inside the Cougar 30. It led to the first touchdown of the game for Auburn and completely changed the momentum of the game early, as Washington State had the Tigers on the virtual ropes.
As I mentioned, nobody’s fault on the hookup, but the fundamental issue was that Connor forced the ball into tight double coverage on an early down (2nd and 10). The other issue was that Auburn had not to that point got any pressure in the pocket for two drives plus, so there really wasn’t any reason to unload the ball so quickly to a covered receiver.
The second incident happened late in the game when Connor threw the interception in the corner of the end zone, again on an early down (1st and goal). Wide open underneath were not one but TWO Cougar receivers at the 5 yard line, but the quarterback never even glanced their direction, as if predetermined to throw the wheel route. In that part of the field the only predetermined route you can throw is the slant route, which Connor had already hit for a touchdown to Ratliff in the 2nd quarter and was again open on this play. There’s no excuse for that throw.
And the third incident was the 4th down incompletion on WSU’s final offensive play of the game. Inexplicably Connor looked out to his right at a crossing pattern that had a cornerback 8 yards off in 1-on-1 coverage and an EASY completion for a first down, but then blindly threw the ball the other direction into triple coverage. I still can’t believe he doesn’t throw the route that he is staring at to start the play, as he had to have seen the matchup was clearly in his favor there but instead wanted to make the hero play to the other side.
There were more in the ballgame, most noticeably another 1st down interception from deep in WSU territory to end the 1st quarter, but Auburn didn’t make him pay for those. These are all mistakes for different reasons and are all fixable. If Halliday can do a better job of managing early down situations, I think the Cougars are in great shape for an upset in the Coliseum this weekend. The Trojans won’t make it as easy, but they still sport a young (though extremely talented) secondary that is going to give up a lot of yards.
Taylor Graham of Hawaii only completed 16 of 41 for 208 yards and 4 interceptions against the Trojans. He clearly was rattled early in his first college start and similar to Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall when we saw him, just didn’t have a rapport with his receivers and seemed to lack in command of the offense. Clearly that’s not the case with Halliday, but as noted above he still makes mistakes and USC is more adept at making a team pay for those, so we’ll see how the Trojan secondary defends anywhere from 55-70 passes against WSU.