PULLMAN – What happened in Las Vegas won’t stay there when it comes to Washington State’s quarterback competition.
And yes, it’s probably safe to call it that now.
How could it not be? Connor Halliday’s 378 passing yards and four touchdowns spoke for themselves in WSU’s 35-27 win over UNLV on Friday.
What remains to be seen is whether senior Jeff Tuel’s right knee injury will keep him out of next week’s game against Colorado, or whether Halliday’s performance might have vaulted him into contention for the starting job even if Tuel is healthy.
The only certainty: Coach Mike Leach is saying nothing, but using a whole lot of words to do it.
“As always, suspense – why do people watch games? Because of suspense, because they want to know what’s going to happen,” Leach said. “I’m not a guy that tells people the ending to a movie if they haven’t seen it and I’m certainly not going to share that with you. If you want to know how it turns out, you’ve got to come see the movie.”
Famed director Peter Berg is one of Leach’s close friends, after all.
And even if Leach won’t confirm who will have the starring role at quarterback next week, he acknowledged that despite throwing two interceptions, Halliday played well considering the relative lack of repetitions he received in camp.
“For a guy that hadn’t played football for a long time, (I) thought he played good,” Leach said. “Obviously, two balls he’d like to have back, one he threw behind a guy, the other one he just threw it off his back foot. I thought (he was) really calm for a guy that hadn’t played a game. I think his demeanor was really good.”
Halliday showed a willingness to throw the ball down the field, completing three passes of 47 yards or longer – two of which (54 yards to Gabe Marks and 81 yards to Marquess Wilson) went for touchdowns.
The sophomore from Spokane said he knew about midway through the week that he was going to make his second career start.
“It definitely helps, because you want to watch a little more film if you’re going to start,” Halliday said. “But you want to practice the same way if you are the starter or if you aren’t.”
“He just gave us chances to go make plays,” said Marks, who led the Cougars in receiving with six catches for 126 yards. “And that’s what we did.”
Wilson said there’s a noticeable difference going from Tuel to Halliday, but that neither is better than the other.
“They’re both amazing,” Wilson said. “Either one, whoever’s in the game we’re going to be able to move the ball and make great plays.”
More of them could be on the way against Colorado on Saturday. The Buffaloes looked miserable in games against Colorado State and Sacramento State, both losses, and were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South.
WSU will almost certainly be favored, and with a victory can match last season’s 3-1 start despite not playing particularly well through three games.
“We did some good things and had contributions from offense, defense and special teams,” Leach said. “We were explosive. We still gave up some explosives. We need to get better on third down, both sides of the ball, and I think one of the biggest things is we need to rise together. One side gets them against the ropes the other side needs to respond, and we need to be a little better when the meat’s on the table.”