PULLMAN – The Washington State Cougars don’t have a quarterback controversy, but it’s not for a lack of trying by Connor Halliday.
Halliday and presumed starter Jeff Tuel split time equally with the No. 1 offense and produced similarly glossy numbers in WSU’s first scrimmage Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium.
Tuel, coming off an injury-marred junior season, completed 14 of 19 passes for 183 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Halliday, who set a WSU freshman record by passing for 494 yards in one game last season, finished 12-for-20 for 223 yards, three TDs and no picks.
Coach Mike Leach continues to play it coy when asked when he’ll name his starting quarterback – “We’ll keep you posted” – but Halliday was more forthcoming.
“I’m sure by next week, whoever’s (repetitions) will start to shrink a little bit, and you’ll be able to start to see who will be the No. 1 guy,” Halliday said.
Both quarterbacks displayed strong arms and took advantage of WSU’s crop of high-quality receivers. Halliday hit Gabe Marks with a 70-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline, and Tuel just missed connecting with Marks on a 50-yard toss that glanced off his fingertips in the end zone.
Leach, who said he’s uncertain if the Cougars will hold another full scrimmage before the Aug. 30 opener at Brigham Young, said his team’s play was “up and down.
“I thought we were really explosive on both sides. That part was good. At times, the busts (mistakes) were pretty big.
“I felt we had pretty good effort. I thought we spent too many downs playing with eight or nine (players going 100 percent) instead of 11.”
Marks, a true freshman from Venice, Calif., continues to draw praise from coaches and teammates.
“He’s the most polished high school kid I’ve ever seen,” Halliday said. “Route running, catching the ball, everything. He’s going to be a great contributor for us this year.”
“I tried to really learn all the plays before I got here so I could be as ready as possible to do what I can to help the team,” Marks said.
WSU cornerbacks got beat badly on the first two touchdown passes of both Halliday (who started the first two series) and Tuel, but the entire defense picked things up later in the hour-long scrimmage.
Safety Anthony Carpenter ran back Tuel’s interception 36 yards for a score.
“They’re getting better at hiding stuff, what they’re going to do,” Tuel said of the defense. “They’re doing a great job.”
“They’ve come a long, long way from the spring,” Halliday said.
Leach, easily the most popular figure at the post-scrimmage autograph session, signed for about two hours. … The crowd peaked at an estimated 700 on a day when the temperature reached 90. School is not in session. … Rahmel Dockery, a freshman from Curtis High School, has moved from wide receiver to cornerback. … Leach said linebacker Jacob Tuivaiave might not enroll until January to save a year of eligibility. … Isiah Myers and Marquess Wilson both caught a pair of touchdown passes. … Rickey Galvin, WSU’s leading rusher last year, has been moved to slot receiver. … Quick little junior college transfer Theron West led WSU with five carries and 16 rushing yards. … Another JC transfer, Michael Bowlin, blasted a 50-yard field goal with ease. Bowlin is battling incumbent kicker Andrew Furney, and Bowlin likely will handle kickoffs and punts. … Freshman cornerback Ray Ford, a late addition after he was not accepted at California for academic reasons, saw some time with the No. 1 defense. … Las Vegas oddsmakers list BYU as a 131/2-point favorite over the Cougars.