Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday (12) throws a pass in the second quarter against the Colorado State Rams during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
“Snap it. Handle it. Hand it off. DO NOT FUMBLE IT!”
I would put money on this being the process of thought in the 25-30 seconds that it took between finding out he had been given a reprieve from becoming the goat in an otherwise flawless performance and taking the field for 2nd and 10 with 2:00 left in Saturday’s unthinkable New Mexico Bowl loss. Remember he had fumbled the ball away after incomprehensibly running a read option and having the wrong kinda meeting with the Mountain West’s defensive player of the year, Shaquil Barrett, just the play before.
Barrett just snatched the ball away and recovered the fumble to send the place into pure pandemonium with around 2:06 left. Then the overturn, because Halliday’s right knee had smooched the ground just before the theft that would have been the greatest play in CSU history. Still, pandemonium, this time on WSU’s sideline.
Colorado State had no timeouts remaining, we all knew that. The Cougars were a mere run play (or two) and a kneel down from victory and for maybe the first time all season, Halliday was faced with an actual play without a decision to make. “Snap it. Handle it. Hand it off. DO NOT FUMBLE IT!”
Remember, Halliday gets the pass play or simply the formation from Leach in every situation and then makes a determination as to his check off. In this case, the check would clearly have been to a run, or an easy slant, or a swing route… something with a high success rate. But likely, just a run attacking the side of the formation (preferably) away from the guy who just stole your heart and football away from you.
But this was a called run, as far as I can gather, as he never checked anything or switched the play away from Barrett. He never glanced at the clock, as he usually does, or he would have seen it moving and walked toward his center to signify that he wasn’t ready for a snap. He never even looked at the defensive formation. It didn’t matter, they were running it and that was all he could think about.
Halliday couldn’t even hear the ref when he said “The clock will start on the ready for play signal” loud and clear over the intercom. Or was it clear?
“Snap it, handle it…”
The play clock was at 22 seconds when he flicked his arm toward the ground to signal his center he wanted the snap. It was at 21 on the snap. The clock was somewhere around 2:01 and in motion, again at 2nd and 10. You can do the math, the game was all but over if they (the Cougars) could have had the wherewithal to just take their time.
As the players were snatching their helmets back onto their heads, the Cougar fans behind the bench were going crazy with relief and victorious celebration, adding to the whole deal. They cannot be blamed, but they unfortunately did not help settle down the players’ anxieties. The win had just been restored and everybody knew it. Nothing could take it away now.
But for a kid named Shaquil Barrett, an All-American linebacker who specializes in the football felony of theft. More on that in part 3 of the series.
Back to Halliday, he had no idea the clock was moving for his favor. Usually when he comes off the sideline it’s stopped until he snaps it, but this was different, it was an overturn of a play that happened when CSU had no timeouts. This was Connor’s first bowl game. This was the first bowl game for his program in 10 long years. It was a unique situation. His heart (after it was given back to him by the officials) must have been beating a million beats per second. He wasn’t calm, and he didn’t have to go through his normal progression of finding things because the call was clear, he had just made a poor decision and he wasn’t changing it for nothin’. He wasn’t in ‘make a play’ mode, just… “Snap it…”
Bottom line, as I mentioned in part 1, the late game clock management was everybody’s fault, not just Halliday’s.
A lot of fans are putting the entire loss on the shoulders of this kid (and Leach) and quite frankly it’s bunk. Regardless of your thoughts on the “system” being the reason Halliday can put up his numbers, he still has to go do it and he’s proving that he’s learning and getting better as he matures into the role of every-down decision maker. He actually only made two bad decisions in this game; the two plays I mentioned above. Other than that, he was flawless.
410 yards (New Mexico Bowl record), six touchdowns (ties only two other quarterbacks in bowl history, that’s ALL bowls, ever) and only one interception which was a dropped pass says that he has matured into one of the future bright spots in this offense. He took sacks when they had to be taken instead of chucking one to the teeth of the secondary for preservation. He threw the ball away when he needed too and when he could. He used his feet to extend plays and throw some beautiful first downs and touchdown passes. He did it all and he did it all well.
Halliday will undoubtedly smash every WSU passing record to ever exist next season if he stays healthy, he already has some. Regardless of your feelings toward “the system”, that would be quite an accomplishment. This is “Quarterback U”, with such names as Ryan Leaf, Jason Gesser, Drew Bledsoe and Mark Rypien, among others. Those are some of the top names in NCAA history, not just at Wazzu. They are special company.
After Saturday, the Spokane native will also have to perhaps make a Rose Bowl appearance pr at least win 9 games next year to be mentioned in the same breath with those guys, even if he does crush all their records and leave his mark as the greatest statistical passer the school has ever seen. That’s kinda why Alex Brink isn’t on the list of great ones in Cougar history. But it’s still a cool thing to do, nonetheless. And who knows, he’s throwing up some pretty unreal numbers right now, they might stand for some time to come. 4,597 yards with 34 touchdowns in 2013 is pretty legit in any system.
But again, it’s his decision making that is in question. He tossed 23 or whatever interceptions this season and that has to be addressed. But maybe it has already been addressed. How many of those picks came in the final four games? Four. I believe his final four games yielded 16 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. That’s darn solid. That kind of ratio next season would give him between 60 and 70 touchdowns and anywhere from 12-16 interceptions next season. Colt Brennan’s NCAA record is 58 passing touchdowns in a season.
It’s a stretch but I’m telling you as hot as Connor finished and the fact that every single receiver and running back coming back in 2014…? That’s completely within the realm of possibility as well.
And don’t you dare say that it’s only a product of “the system” that gives him that opportunity. Mike Leach has been around a LONG time and has had some incredible Qb’s in that system. Graham Harrell, Kliff Kingsbury, Sonny Cumbie, B.J. Symons and more. There are the Colt Brennan’s of June Jones’ system and the Case Keenum’s of the Kevin Sumlin system. Even the Leaf’s and Bledsoe’s put up similar huge numbers in the Mike Price era. They all led the NCAA in passing and there were records set on the FBS level in their day, most of which still stand. The prospective numbers that Halliday could put up if he continues his roll into next season would drop all of those names to their knees. That’s more than “system” quarterbacking, that’s incredible stuff.
But there is a long ways to go before that is possible. And above all, winning is key. All of those players reached a high level bowl in their career, to say that stats don’t matter (as many have been arguing) holds some credence if you can’t will your team to a win when it is necessary. Truthfully enough, Connor couldn’t do that last Saturday, even with the stats of a quarterback god behind him.
History is made in the stat box, necessarily, legends are made in the win column. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it should be. Hopefully Connor can take a legendary step next season. But I used a key word in the last paragraph; Will. I don’t think there’s any question our quarterback finally got the message and the offense. He’s finally making all the right decisions, or at least most of them.
Now it’s about his WILL power for this team. That’s what ultimately defines a great leader and that’s what will ultimately define Connor Halliday’s legacy at Washington State.