PULLMAN – Some football players talk a good game, but they can’t play worth a damn. Other players perform well on the field, but they turn into a two-legged sleeping pill when they step up to the podium.
Connor Halliday is piling up some of the greatest passing numbers in college football history this season, yet the Washington State senior might be even better at zinging an underachieving teammate than he is at zinging a ball at a receiver.
Halliday made no attempt to hide his disdain for the effort of some of the Cougars following Saturday’s blowout loss to Arizona. On Monday, he added more verbal wood to the bonfire.
“We need more guys to truly be hurt by a loss,” Halliday said. “I don’t know how to explain that perfectly. (WSU coach Mike) Leach has said it’s too easy to lose around here. It’s just the way it’s been around here the past 12 years or whatever.
“A culture gets hard to break. It’s a little frustrating, because I thought we were a little bit ahead of that after last season. But we’ve had some guys on this team that have kind of reverted back to old actions when things have gotten tough.”
Halliday, never afraid to speak his mind, said Saturday night it is “too easy for guys to accept losing around here.” He also said, “At times we didn’t have everybody playing as hard as we needed them to play.”
Some Cougars may bristle at Halliday’s comments, but not junior linebacker Jeremiah Allison.
“I agree totally with Connor. He hit it right on the head,” Allison said Monday after a reporter read aloud Halliday’s Saturday comments.
“Basically, we move on from the game a little bit too fast. I know no one is supposed to dwell on the loss that long, but for a while, it should hurt you. You should come back inspired to never want to taste that taste anymore.”
Leach, in his third year at Washington State, has occasionally bemoaned the lack of mental toughness demonstrated by certain Cougars. Leach frequently has complimented his 2014 team for working hard in games, practices and other workouts, but he continues to maintain that some players have been impacted negatively by the fact that WSU has not enjoyed a winning season since 2003.
The Cougars (2-6, 1-4 Pac-12) must win their four remaining regular-season games to be bowl eligible.
“Basically,” Allison said, “it’s a four-game playoff series.”
The Cougars would have to finish 5-0 (winning a bowl) to snap a seven-year string of losing seasons. The Cougars finished 6-6 in 2006. They haven’t won more than six games or won a bowl game since 2003.
All of the teams left on WSU’s schedule have winning records, starting with USC Saturday in Pullman (1:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). The Cougars, 10-7 winners at USC last year, have won two in a row over the Trojans (5-3, 4-2) only once in nearly a century of competition.
Half of WSU’s regulars are freshmen or sophomores. Halliday and Allison said some of the youngsters are too tentative at times.
“Play more freely . . . have fun out there,” Allison advised.
Halliday added, “We’ve got some guys that are 17, 18, 19 years old out there that are going to make mistakes, and everybody realizes that, but make them going 100 miles an hour with their hair on fire. Those mistakes can be corrected. The mistakes where people are hesitant, scared to make a tackle, or scared to make a play, those ones are tough to fix.”
Many WSU fans fear the cycle of losing won’t end next season, since Halliday’s departure will leave an inexperienced quarterback in charge of Leach’s pass-til-you-drop offense. Redshirt freshman Luke Falk has thrown two passes all year as Halliday’s backup. The No. 3 quarterback, true freshman Peyton Bender, is redshirting.
“Luke works SO hard at football,” Halliday said. “I mean, he puts in so much effort. He deserves everything he gets out of this.
“I think Luke’s going to be a very tough guy to beat out, because he works so hard. I think Leach realizes that. Peyton is a very, very talented kid . . . he just needs to mature a little bit.”
Halliday, who leads the nation with 3,833 passing yards and 32 touchdown passes, points out that WSU’s young, surprisingly effective offensive line will return all five starters next year. River Cracraft, Dom Williams and other quality receivers are coming back. The cocky and talented Gabe Marks – who led the Cougars with 74 catches last year – returns after redshirting this season.
“Gabe’s going to be frickin’ excited to play football,” Halliday said.
Halliday only wishes he could say the same about all of the Cougars.