Crimson and Gray Breakdown: Part 1


For Cougar football fans, the Crimson and Gray game played Saturday was the one chance to sate a never-ending thirst for the game of college football.

Coming on the heels of a disappointing 2012 campaign, there are high expectations for the beloved Cougs all across Cougar Nation once again.

Those looking for performance justifying the claim that when the 2013 schedule has played out Washington State will once again be invited to a postseason bowl game…well…

The blustery setting at Spokane’s Joe Albi Stadium provided a perfect match to the outcome of the final spring practice scrimmage. There were moments of sunshine warming the crowd on hand mixed with other times where folks were looking for cover from the gusty winds.

Most fans want a confident answer for who will start at quarterback when WSU travels to Auburn for their first game.

Was there an answer to that question based on performance Saturday? If you listen to the rhetoric of Coach Mike Leach you would be led to believe, “No.”

From my view in the press box the decision for Coach Leach is contrary to what he’s trying to get folks to believe. Sure, there’s competition at the position between a pair of talented young men. But let’s step back and consider a few things, OK?

Connor Halliday appeared inconsistent Saturday. That said, Halliday looked confident and composed from the get go. Much is being made of a few errant throws and the occasions where he held the ball too long allowing sacks to be registered.

More should be made of several series when Halliday moved the offense methodically within the constraints of plays he was told to run.

As a reminder, the defensive schemes yesterday were less-than-aggressive. Heck, the guys on “D” weren’t allowed to run line stunts or blitz. That’s an important point because all three (I’ll get to the third QB later) WSU quarterbacks were influenced knowing they were facing pretty tame defensive sets.

The other leading candidate for the starting QB job is Austin Apodoca who looked lost and confused in his first few series. It took four series before Apodoca began to look like a Pac-12 quarterback. There should be no doubt he has the tools to be successful in this conference. Is he better than Halliday? Not at this stage based on an up and down spring and shaky scrimmage.

Then there is the matter of a quality backup to run the Air Raid offense. Not only did Coach Leach trot out walk-on Jesse Brown for the final two Crimson series, he trotted out on the field himself. Leach and other staff members were about 10-yards behind the offensive formation when Brown got his chance. The results were positive as Brown completed 4 of 6 attempts for 64 yards, a touchdown and 2-point conversion.

None of the three quarterbacks yesterday brought predecessors like Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, Drew Bledsoe, etc. to mind. But even when I took my glasses off it was clear Coach Leach has three guys who have game. And that’s not counting high school phenom Tyler Bruggman who will arrive in Pullman this summer.

Without solid play by whoever is tapped as the starter, the matter of Cougar Nation seeing the high scoring Air Raid isn’t on the near horizon.

There were numerous opportunities for easy completions to wide open receivers yesterday missed by both Halliday and Apodoca. My guess is the guy who spends the most quality time watching video from yesterday will likely emerge No. 1.

Play after play there were options overlooked because neither Halliday nor Apodoca were quickly checking down.

Keep in mind, Coach Leach isn’t likely to announce his decision until late in fall camp. That said, yesterday he tipped his hand when you look at attempts: Halliday 58 – Apodoca 45

One last comment about the offense yesterday.

I don’t have official stats to confirm, but it appeared the time between plays being executed was about 5 seconds less than last year. Credit should be noted and added to the discussion for operating at a quicker tempo. We’re not talking Chip Kelly fast between snaps, but the deliberate play of a year ago appears to be just that…a thing of the past.

There’s much more to discuss and debate about the current status of Cougar football but let’s pause and reflect on the race for starting quarterback.

-Connor Halliday stats from the scrimmage:38-58 for 406-yds 3TD, 2INT
-Austin Apodaca was 27-45 for 279-yds 1TD