PULLMAN – Connor Halliday will return to his old field of glory on Saturday. But when he leads the Cougars into Spokane’s Joe Albi Stadium for the Washington State Crimson and Gray game it will be to showcase his quarterbacking talents, rather than proving them.
As a prep football player at local Lewis and Clark and Ferris high schools, Joe Albi was the site for many of Halliday’s early exploits that caught the eye of college coaches. He returns as WSU’s record-setting quarterback and one of the national passing leaders.
“A lot of people will be there that I don’t even know are coming,” Halliday said. “There will be some surprises and it’s something I look forward to every year. It’s really cool. I’m playing Pac-12 football and I get to go back to the stadium I played high school football in.”
The quarterback began last season by throwing five interceptions in the first two games and finished it tossing six touchdown passes in one half. As his interceptions went down his yards and scores went up and he ended the year with Pac-12 single-game records for completions, attempts, yards and total offense.
With those successes under his belt Halliday has spent the spring as the undeniable leader of the offense, a fulcrum for the rest of the unit to balance on.
“He’s definitely improved,” receiver River Cracraft said. “The goal after the bowl game was to come together as a team and I can see we’ve definitely made some strides.”
While Halliday’s improvement was apparent throughout the season, it came through peaks and valleys rather than a steady climb. A prolific game at California was followed by a rough one at home against Oregon State.
A largely forgettable Apple Cup followed his virtuoso, 488-yard, four-touchdown performance against Utah to make the Cougars bowl eligible.
So for Halliday, spring football was as much about staving off regression and keeping the gains from his previous season as it was about getting more comfortable with his receivers, the offense and coach Mike Leach’s expectations.
It has been a success according to both parties. Halliday has been sharp all spring and has breezed through scrimmages and drills, completing well over half his passes and with only one really bad decision that led to an interception – a lofted screen that linebacker Ivan McLennan picked off – his nemesis a season ago.
“I think he’s more accurate, I think he’s more precise,” said Leach of Halliday’s improvement. “Some of it is because the receivers are more precise where they’re at, when, they’ve improved also, which has helped him. So I think it’s all worked together.”
Halliday says that his successes this spring are the result of mental improvements and that he is making safer decisions. In fact, he’s certain of it.
“I know that I’ve come a long way in this offense, I know that I’ve come a long way in checking plays and making calls at the line of scrimmage,” he said. “I know I’ve come a long way in helping out the young guys here.”
The Cougars hosted some high-profile recruits at Tuesday’s practice. Tyler Hilinksi of Upland, Calif., reportedly the top quarterback on Leach’s recruiting board, and defensive tackle Thomas Toki – who recently moved to California from Kirkland, Wash. Both have announced intentions to attend WSU. Both players are rated as four-star prospects by Scout.com.