Time to continue the project, reviewing and grading our number one quarterback, Connor Halliday on his week to week decisions. Volume two of this series takes us back a couple of weeks to the USC game, where Halliday turned it over three times for the second week in a row. Again we’ll look at three negative and then three positive plays to try and figure out where our leader is improving or digressing. To review Volume 1 of the series CLICK HERE!
Unfortunately, there aren’t any good highlights of these plays by Halliday unless you have Pac-12 Networks and can login to watch “Football in 60: WSU vs USC“. But I’m going to describe the plays anyway.
- INT #1 – Late in the Red Zone
The Outcome: WSU had a golden opportunity for points in a 0-0 tie midway through the first quarter, but Connor threw a bullet over the middle that was picked off. The play came on 3rd down, which unlike the first game against Auburn at least gave the Cougs three opportunities to score a touch, but they didn’t NEED a touchdown like the previous week either. The outcome was that one of the most reliable field goal kickers in the nation didn’t get his chance to put the Cougs up and put the pressure on SC.
The Decision: The decision was really bad because of where the Cougs were on the field and the opportunity to take the lead. Connor had just missed a wide open River Cracraft and a flaring Jeremiah Laufasa on back to back plays, both of which had a chance to be touchdowns. At the time, I’m sure Connor felt pressure after missing those two throws to put it in the endzone and at least he waited til 3rd down to throw into coverage. The problem is that he was late on the opening due to it being his second read and he has to realize that inside the 20’s if you see the opening but missed the development of that opening you’re too late to make the throw due to condensed space on the field. It likely would have been a touchdown, had that receiver been his first read because he could’ve thrown it before the corner had a chance to break under it. The other thing Connor has to understand was that WSU had just taken a great drive down the field to take an early lead on the road (and at SC no less). If the receiver isn’t wide open as a quarterback it’s your job to preserve points and either throw it out of the back of the endzone or take off and try to get there yourself. This is a continued issue with Halliday that needs fixing.
- FUMBLE Leading to SC Points
The Result: Connor drops back, pumps, frantically searches as the pocket collapses and then as he feels contact he dances up in the pocket and tries to make a throw all in one motion. He’s being hit by three Trojans at this point and it’s already 2nd and 27, but it goes from bad worse when the ball is dislodged, recovered by SC and taken inside the 20, leading to the first (and only) SC points of the night. Eerily, it was the second week in a row that a Halliday turnover led to the first points of the game for the opposition.
The Decision: To be truthful, Connor was lucky he didn’t get the throw away, because that would’ve been a pick-6 for the USC corner. Ultimately, it made very little difference as the Trojans scored anyway, but a pick-6 seems more devastating to a quarterback’s confidence. The end result is that Connor should never have tried to throw the ball in a 2nd and 27 with defenders around his legs. The rewards just don’t meet the risks. Really the play was more on the offensive line than Halliday, but again, time and score are important and there was no need to try and be a hero in a 0-0 game at the beginning of the 2nd quarter.
- INT #2 – WHY???
The Result: A jump pass with a little bit of pressure down the sidelines is picked by a diving SC defender. At the time SC was up 7-0 and the Cougs were trying to recapture some momentum going into halftime.
The Decision: The decision wasn’t as bad as the mechanics on the play, but again it could have been better. To be fair it looks like Brett Bartolone is breaking open on the out-n-up if the throw gets out where it’s supposed to, but that’s made impossible when USC forces late pressure right in Connor’s lap and he is forced to fade away from his throw instead of step into it. Here’s the problem… As with a lot of Halliday-thrown interceptions, there is another guy WIDE open on the play and he tries to make the long throw from one hash to the other sideline. In this case it’s Gabe Marks who had run an out underneath Bartolone. The throw really should’ve gone there, as it’s 3rd down and the Cougars were in desperate need of a momentum grabber. In all I don’t mind the decision but WHY CONNOR WHY did you throw a fadeaway jump pass to the opposite sideline?! Also, as I said, I really wish the throw would’ve gone underneath.
- Attacking the Mid Blitz
Connor has started to excel at seeing the middle blitz coming pre snap (usually when the Cougs are going “on-two”, meaning a delayed snap on the second hand or foot motion of Halliday) and attacking it with a double cross of some sort. The play has happened a few times in the first few weeks for big gains. Case and point in the USC game came early in the game on the second Cougar possession and on 3rd and 7. USC loaded a nose tackle right over the center, two DT’s in the A-gaps and both DE’s outside the Cougs OT’s. When Connor made his first motion, nobody backed out so he knew SC was sending 5 and because of the 4 WR set both linebackers were widened to play head-up with the inside WR’s. Result was a wide open middle of the field and Kristoff Williams came right down the line, where Connor met him with the ball for a 28 yard catch-and-run.
- Running Inside, Attack the Edge with the Pass
You gotta love that Connor stayed patient against SC! Again he has all the freedom to check to a run, as all plays that come from the sideline are called pass plays. The Cougs came up 20 plays short of their Auburn total, yet only ran one less time. The pass rush was slowed a little bit and it made a difference late in the game when the Trojans were tired and couldn’t tackle Dom Williams on the screen. It was about the 20th screen of the game and the D-linemen were just too tired to rally to the ball.
- The Victory formation
Ok this is officially a cop-out, but the three knees that Connor took to end the game make my list. Not because they were done flawlessly (they were indeed) but because of the significance of the win for both the program and its’ quarterback who endured a tough day and finally won anyway. I think the confidence that he gets from his defense picking him up helps him tremendously going forward, maybe to the point where he stops playing as if the next play has to be a touchdown or bust. It’s called trusting your teammates and now Connor can feel that confidence moving into the future.