Assigning a definitive label to Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday is mostly futile, though every Cougars fan still invested in this season has the right to give it a go. Kvetching is the only appropriate therapy for a tortured fan base that hasn’t reached a bowl game since 2003.
The redshirt junior from Ferris High School in Spokane, in his first full year starting, is sixth in the country with 3,098 passing yards but leading it in interceptions with 18. The descriptors for Halliday are wide-ranging.
Explosive. Exasperating. Thrilling. Bold. Mercurial. Frustrating. Bellicose. Funny.
Here’s another: Failing.
At least that was his M.O. in the fourth quarter of WSU’s (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) first nine games. When wins were available, Halliday, a risk-taking sort never shy to throw a receiver open, didn’t play very well.
Fourth quarters are his bugaboo. He has an 87.5 passer rating (using the pre-QBR standard where 158.3 is the maximum score) and has completed 52.6 percent of his passes (51 of 97) for three touchdowns and six interceptions.
It doesn’t take an offensive coordinator to realize the latter ratio should be flipped, nor an advanced understanding of football statistics to see he has guided WSU to only one fourth-quarter, come-from-behind win, a 37-27 triumph Nov. 12, 2011 against Arizona State in a snowy Martin Stadium.
Going 27 of 36 for 494 yards and four touchdowns in those conditions, in his first collegiate start, befit a player following in the lineage of great WSU quarterbacks such as Jack Thompson, Drew Bledsoe, Mark Rypien, Timm Rosenbach, Jason Gesser, Ryan Leaf and Alex Brink.
Halliday’s fourth-quarter follies are his greatest impediment to joining the club, not the interceptions for which most of the WSU fan base chides him.
It’s unfair to lambast a quarterback, especially one forced to throw 89 times in Autzen Stadium, when he has no running game (123rd in the country) and a shaky offensive line that includes a pair of transfers (Matt Goetz and Joe Dahl) and a pair of walk-ons (Elliott Bosch and Gunnar Eklund).
A look to four years ago, when the Cougars were buried so far under college football’s scrap heap that it appeared they might never emerge, lends a little perspective.
It was 2009, former coach Paul Wulff’s second season, when WSU “quarterback” Kevin Lopina was mostly bad in five starts, completing 52.4 percent of his passes on a one-win team. He threw two touchdowns and three interceptions, though in the second half of games he posted a mediocre quarterback rating of 116.
Halliday’s second-half quarterback rating in 2013?
That number isn’t indicative of the strides he is making in his second year under coach Mike Leach, whose Air Raid offense is among the most demanding to learn for quarterbacks. In the past three games, all blow-out losses to Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State, Halliday threw a combined 192 passes, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Compared to last year, his completion rate is better by 10 percent (52.2 to 62.7), his adjusted QBR by more than 20 (35.3 to 57.8) and the Cougars are a win better and two away from an elusive bowl appearance, with match-ups against Arizona, Utah and the University of Washington looming.
Now he needs to start playing better than Kevin Lopina.