BERKELEY, Calif. – Washington State had just scored its most points in a conference game in 10 years, and yet Connor Halliday wasn’t satisfied.
The points, in a 44-22 victory over California?
“We left a lot of points out there,” Halliday said. “It’s a really big win, but really frustrating.”
The yards, his 521 passing that fell just 10 short of Alex Brink’s school record?
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“That’s a little frustrating stat,” he said. “We left a lot of points out there, and we left 10 yards out there.”
Halliday might have a sense for history, but here’s something I’m guessing he doesn’t know. The last time WSU beat Cal came on this field in 2002, 48-38, and Jason Gesser threw for 431 yards at just about this point in what would become a Rose Bowl season for the Cougars, and he did it playing with a dislocated rib.
So this victory broke WSU’s eight-game losing streak to the Bears, and it also provided a degree of symmetry. Last week, Halliday was abused by Stanford’s voracious defense, and when he was helped to the locker room by two training staffers in the third quarter against the Cardinal at CenturyLink Field, he looked like a candidate for a gurney, or at least a PUP list.
No matter. He practiced all week, WSU didn’t acknowledge the injury, per policy, and Halliday played.
He played hurt.
“Obviously, he got hurt a little bit last week,” said offensive tackle John Fullington. “He’s a really tough kid.”
Halliday coughed briefly and appeared to flinch on his left side. As for his infirmity, he said only, “I’m going to be dealing with this for a while. It is what it is.”
Halliday is a slender 6 feet 4 and 190 pounds, and he said awhile back his body would naturally be about 165-170 if he weren’t playing football. That’s not a weight normally associated with robust quarterbacks.
But just as Gesser won a permanent place in crimson fans’ hall of fame for the guts that allowed him to play on a high ankle sprain against UCLA in the Pasadena-clinching victory in 2002, Halliday is working himself into the same pantheon of toughness. Remember, this is a guy who suffered a liver laceration of almost six inches against a rugged Utah defense in late 2011, played three quarters plus an overtime with it and then spent a whole offseason in recovery, missing the first spring under Leach.
So I asked him how much Leach values toughness in his quarterbacks.
“I think that’s what coach Leach values out of any position on the field,” Halliday said. “He expects toughness. He expects that out of all 22 guys on the field.”
On this day, Leach pretty much got it. He certainly got it from defensive lineman Toni Pole, who ripped the ball from Brendan Bigelow on the third of three runs from the WSU 1-yard line in the second quarter, forcing one of five Cal turnovers.
And he got it from Halliday, who was hardly flawless, but more than functional.
“I thought he had a good week of practice, and I thought he did a good job managing the team,” said Leach, who deals praise to his quarterbacks like Scrooge parcels out holiday gifts.
Besides an interception, Halliday’s only real gaffe was a head-scratching check at the WSU 2-yard line after Pole’s big defensive play. He had Teondray Caldwell run a “stretch” play to the right, and Garfield product Deandre Coleman snagged Caldwell in the end zone for a safety.
But mostly, the Cougars clicked against a Bears defense that is losing bodies by the week. Seven starters projected on the pre-fall camp two-deep were unavailable by game’s end.
The WSU offensive line, with Matt Goetz playing at guard and Fullington at tackle to replace demoted Rico Forbes, was effective keeping out a Bears rush that had little imagination.
It blew open a good hole for Caldwell’s 10-yard touchdown run up the gut in the third quarter, and then gave Halliday enough time to locate strapping Vince Mayle, who bowled over 180-pound safety Cameron Walker on a 72-yard play for a 35-15 lead.
“The offensive line played unreal,” said Halliday. “That was huge. I think I got hit twice. That’s a lot of fun back there, when you have all that time to get rid of the ball.”
It’s WSU’s fourth victory in six games, leaving two to go for bowl eligibility. The Cougars left happy on an 80-degree day at Strawberry Canyon, unwilling even to let those 10 missing yards passing spoil a golden afternoon.
|Most passing yards|
|In the victory Saturday, Connor Halliday set the WSU school record for pass completions (41) and pass attempts (67) and neared the record for passing yards in a game:|
|531||Alex Brink||2005 vs. Oregon St.|
|521||Connor Halliday||2013 vs. California|
|494||Halliday||2011 vs. Arizona St.|
|476||Drew Bledsoe||1992 vs. Utah|
|Source: WSU record book|
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org