WSU Football: Mike Leach Gives Connor Halliday Freedom to Change the Game


Sept. 22, 2012; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Holliday (12) drops back for a pass against Colorado Buffaloes during the first half at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Connor Halliday struggled in year one of Mike Leach’s “brilliant” offense and we were very critical of his decision making over the season of 15 touchdowns and 13 very costly interceptions. Usually the picks would come in clumps of two or three at a time and it was very difficult to understand from the fan chair what was happening. THIS ARTICLE from CF.C explains it all, or most of it while Halliday offers up his thoughts on the Mike Leach mindset and how it caused him to struggle originally but finally changed his game for the better.

Going into it too much would probably be to steal the article (so read it first, it’s amazing insight), but I want to offer up some thoughts on what it means from my perspective.

Halliday is probably more a leader of this team now because of the way Leach has handled him than he ever would have been under Paul Wulff and Todd Sturdy. Don’t get me wrong, it really looked like the Cougars were about to explode in that offensive system and there’s nothing wrong with that philosophy. But actually it was much more “robot” oriented than we ever gave it credit for.

On the flip side, Leach Qb’s have always been referred to as “robots” and fans have never really realized that his field-general’s were a whole lot more like Peyton Manning. By that I mean they were “free thinkers”, able to make their own checks, be their own boss and control their own destiny and the destiny of their offense. In that way a Leach quarterback also gains credibility with his teammates and becomes a full leader (at least in palpable theory), which was very interesting to me.

Apparently (according to Halliday’s interesting thoughts) Leach just knows exactly what kind of quarterback will be able learn his system, then he teaches him the basics and allows that guy to do all the work. They get so good at reading defenses that they take the easy play, the money play, based on the defensive alignment every time. If Connor can learn this, wow would Washington State become deadly. Just think, they ended with the #9 passing offense with two Qb’s who really didn’t have the nuances of their new identities down at all!

“Robotic” isn’t the term to describe what this offense is, but it’s meant to look that way. I would say that “intelligent with a killer instinct” or the true version of “take what the defense gives you” is much more appropriate. Leach uses that term all the time and it really sticks. Usually when you think of that (or at least when I think of that term in a football sense), you think of reading and taking what the defense has left for you in the play that’s been called. But sometimes the defense leaves nothing for you. Granted you can audible into another play, but a lot of things can go wrong switching plays.

In a Mike Leach offense, it means see what the defense is going to do first (or what they are prepared to give you pre-snap) and then exploit it or manipulate it with the play call yourself. That’s pure intelligence and if utilized properly has a much higher success rate attached to it because the pressure is then all on the defense to make the play. There’s also less chance of mis-communication via audible that way.

As mentioned earlier it also gives the quarterback control of the team and let’s Leach oversee the important things, like firing up the defense when they need it. You may remember there were times last year where the offense was on the field but Leach was huddling with his defense on the sidelines. That gives the team 100% trust in their Qb and really can be a bonding tool all it’s own.

Of course the negative side to this is that if the quarterback is a repeated knucklehead or just not a great learner or seer of the field, the offense is going to struggle mightily. A lot of quarterbacks aren’t ready in college to take on that responsibility and would totally fall apart at the first sign of turmoil with it all riding on their shoulders (Connor was that guy at times last season). I would venture to say that actually a very small percentage of Qb’s nationally have the ability to take on that role and that’s why Leach is very particular and only recruits four or five guys per year at that position.

Obviously coach is a lot more stable about how Connor has grown into that this offseason as he now praises his young leader at every opportunity for his leadership abilities. The trust factor has been growing ever since the Spring between the two and it’s very apparent whenever Leach is asked about him. But for a while I think the lack of that trust was the main reason Austin Apodaca was right on Halliday’s heels.

I also thought it was interesting the thought about running plays all being called by the quarterback and never coming from Leach himself (remember Leach is his own “offensive coordinator”). Last year we ran the same draw play about 20 times and each time it got swallowed up in the backfield. I always blamed Leach for the mistake of calling a stupid draw in the wrong situation but obviously Halliday and/or Jeff Tuel missed a read in nearly every instance and needed to see something different. It seems we finally got the correct run plays called against the Dawgs, so that’s a good sign but it was Tuel who made those reads. Hopefully Halliday will see it correctly this season.

Interesting how a little insight can change the entire outlook towards a player. After reading, it’s obvious that Connor’s confidence has sailed through the roof because he now knows that he’s encouraged, free and expected to get the team right when the play is wrong. Based on Coug fan reaction they’re a lot more excited to see Connor Halliday and the rest of the offense work towards flourishing under this brilliant frame of teaching after understanding it better.

Again if you missed the article, click the link from earlier and read it!

Go Cougs!