Connor Halliday shows he's worthy of starting spot
LAS VEGAS — Suddenly, the quarterback picture at Washington State could get very interesting.
Jeff Tuel missed WSU’s game here Friday night at UNLV, and in his place, sophomore Connor Halliday was more than adequate, completing 26 of 45 for 378 yards and four touchdowns, with two interceptions.
“Connor’s a gunslinger,” said freshman receiver Gabe Marks, who caught a 52-yard touchdown pass. “He takes a little more chances.”
Mike Leach, the WSU coach, doesn’t discuss injuries, nor prospective starters, so it’s speculative whether Tuel will be ready next week for the Pac-12 opener in Pullman against Colorado. But Halliday at least made it a competition.
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“I think I made a decent case,” said Halliday, who wasn’t bubbling over another victory in which WSU seemingly kept an opponent in the game.
“I thought he played good,” said Leach. “There were two balls he’d like to have back, but I thought he was really calm for a guy who hadn’t played a lot.”
A year ago, with Tuel injured, Halliday had a monster, 494-yard passing night to beat Arizona State. Then he sustained a liver laceration of almost six inches and played with it for three quarters in an overtime defeat against Utah.
The injury prevented him from doing any real conditioning or weightlifting until about May.
“Who wouldn’t like a quarterback who was just launching the ball?” said Marquess Wilson, who had an 81-yard touchdown catch on his 20th birthday, but dropped what could have been two other touchdown passes.
Asked who would start next week, Leach said, “Why do people watch games? Because of the suspense. I’m not a guy who tells people the ending to a movie if they haven’t seen it. If you want to see how it turns out, you’ve gotta come see the movie.”
The Cougars appeared to get a solid game from walk-on left tackle Gunnar Eklund, a 6-foot-7, 286-pound redshirt freshman from Lake Stevens.
When Dan Spitz, a right guard, didn’t make the trip because of what Leach called “personal reasons” that kept him out of practice, the Cougars moved John Fullington to left guard and Eklund got his first start.
Run or pass?
Leach showed a riverboat gambler’s penchant on WSU’s final series in UNLV territory, when it appeared the Cougars could run the clock out simply by handing the ball off. Instead, he called pass plays for Halliday twice, stopping the clock and allowing the Rebels a late, desperation possession.
“The important thing is to get first downs,” Leach said.
And then to reporters’ surprise, he added, “I ran it too much. We’ve gotta line up and get first downs.”