Connor Halliday has been many things to many people in his time as the Washington State quarterback. He’s been the backup, the starter, each more than once. He’s been the guy who threw too many interceptions; he’s been the guy who threw five touchdowns in one half of WSU’s first bowl game in a decade.
Now he has to be a coach, too.
The Cougars took the field for the first spring practice of the year and on the offensive side they have the luxury of experienced starters. True, the Cougars will be green along the offensive line but they’ve got more returning wide receivers than most teams carry on a roster, solid running backs and Halliday.
The senior quarterback enters spring firmly entrenched as the starter at the game’s most important position, particularly in coach Mike Leach’s pass-heavy Air Raid offense.
He completed 62.9 percent of his passes, throwing for 4,597 yards, 34 touchdowns and a host of school and Pac-12 records last season.
But backing up Halliday is a pair of redshirt freshman, Tyler Bruggman and Luke Falk, who have never taken a college snap. If Halliday suffers an injury, as he did in both his freshman and junior seasons, the Cougars will rely on one of the two to carry them until their senior can return.
So, Halliday’s personal duties have more to do with maintenance than absorption.
“Just getting better consistency with the receivers outside and then the young guys,” Halliday said. “Sebastian (LaRue), Calvin (Green), getting those guys used to how I throw the football and the depth of our routes, things like that.”
But his most important agenda, arguably, is to prepare a successor for whenever one is needed. Indications are that it will be Bruggman, who led the scout team last season and received the majority of the reps behind Halliday on Thursday.
“Tyler had a heck of a redshirt year,” Halliday said. “He picks up things quickly and Luke isn’t far behind him so I think you guys will see we’ve got some depth at the position this year.”
As the scout team quarterback, Bruggman simulated WSU’s opponent, facing the first team defense in practice last season. As Halliday’s primary backup on Thursday, he finally had a first team offense at his side.
The change in personnel, or perhaps in speed, flustered Bruggman at first. His first pass during the team period was an incompletion. His next was an interception.
But he followed that with a 30-yard pass and then a 60-yard touchdown. While Bruggman, who is still in his first academic year at WSU, doesn’t yet look ready to face Pac-12 opponents, by the end of spring the Cougars will need him to be well on his way.
“I thought he started out trying to make too much happen,” Leach said. “And I thought as he relaxed he got better and better.”
Trying out as punt returners for the Cougars were wide receivers Brett Bartolone, Robert Lewis, Sebastian LaRue, cornerbacks Daquawn Brown and Marcellus Pippins, and running back Jamal Morrow. LaRue, a transfer from Texas A&M, had the best day of the specialists. But Pippins had the best return, taking one cut to burst free from the coverage and score.
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Back with my day-after post following Gonzaga’s 92-66 blowout over Portland on Thursday. My game story, as well as articles in the Oregonian and Portland Tribune. More below.