The gun slinging WSU Cougars received some good news recently; their quarterbacks are going to be more protected after a new rule was implemented. The NCAA approved a rule last week that will protect quarterbacks from low contact at or below the knees during the throwing motion. The rule, if violated, will result in a 15 yard roughing the passer penalty.
For a pass heavy offense like the Cougars, this is music to their ears. When quarterbacks Connor Halliday and Tyler Bruggman heard the new rule had been approved, it’s hard to imagine they weren’t smiling. This rule change will allow the quarterbacks to stand in the pocket with more confidence knowing they are more protected.
Last season Halliday attempted an FBS leading 714 passes, 55 more than the next closest player. But that isn’t a surprise in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. The real benefit Halliday will receive from this new rule is confidence. At some points last season, Halliday showed he was unable to bounce back from a turnover. In a game against Oregon State, Halliday threw an interception at the beginning of the fourth quarter that resulted in an OSU touchdown drive. Facing a 14-point deficit, Halliday broke down completely throwing two more interceptions in the Cougars next two possessions.
This became a theme for Halliday and the Cougars during parts of the season. Halliday had 27 touchdowns against 14 interceptions during the first three quarters, but only 7 touchdowns against 8 interceptions in the fourth quarter. At a time where the game is likely on the line, the fourth quarter is when you want your quarterback playing his best football. Halliday will have to improve his play in the fourth quarter in order to ward off the highly touted redshirt freshman Tyler Bruggman from taking his starting job.
With the new rule being implemented, Halliday now will be able to feel more comfortable in the pocket knowing he shouldn’t have to worry about taking low hits. Being comfortable is very crucial for how a quarterback performs. Great quarterbacks are poised and aren’t fazed by pressure situations. Halliday showed flashes of his potential poise as a quarterback late last season.
After throwing four interceptions at Oregon, Halliday threw only five interceptions with 16 touchdowns in his remaining five games. He threw 17 interceptions in his first eight games, marking a solid improvement at the end of the season. In Mike Leach’s offense, interceptions will inevitably happen more than fans would like, but limiting those as much as possible is important to WSU’s success.
With the up and coming Bruggman poised to earn playing time, Halliday must use the new rule to raise his confidence and continue to build on his strong finish last season. Mike Leach expects the Cougars to finish with a winning record. If Halliday can’t prove he can be poised in late game situations and limit his interceptions, then the era of Tyler Bruggman will begin sooner than Halliday would like.