PULLMAN — If you thought the Stanford game was rough for Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, go back and watch last year’s game against Oregon State.
The teams combined for eight turnovers, including three interceptions from Halliday, who was benched in the second quarter of the 19-6 loss.
As the Cougars (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) prepare to host the Beavers on Saturday, much will depend on the play of Halliday, who is a year older and wiser and is coming off a 521-yard passing performance against Cal.
Ball security will be paramount against an OSU team that is averaging a hair over 41 points per game.
Halliday’s teammates don’t doubt him in the slightest.
“Connor is the toughest quarterback I’ve ever dealt with in my life,” said safety Deone Bucannon. “… He’s a tough, playmaking, hard-nosed guy, and he’s going to get the job done.”
There’s little doubt Halliday has improved immensely since that forgetful day in Corvallis.
The senior signal-caller’s struggles to take care of the football persisted in the first two games of this season, during which he threw five interceptions and just a single touchdown. But head coach Mike Leach kept faith in his quarterback, who has rewarded his coach’s confidence with 12 touchdowns against five interceptions over WSU’s past four games.
While Leach has been guarded in his praise of the quarterback, he did acknowledge that Halliday’s gaudy numbers against Cal were the result of his ideal stewardship of the Air Raid offense.
“I thought Connor did a good job of getting it to the running backs,” Leach said. “I like the fact that we didn’t run that much but they had quite a few touches. I did think it went pretty good as far as there was some balance to how many touches by position.”
With four wins, the Cougars have already surpassed their win total from last season and need only one more victory for their best record since 2007.
LEACH LIKES O-LINE
Matt Goetz started his first game of the season at right guard on Saturday. The move pushed John Fullington over to right tackle and relegated Rico Forbes to the second string. While Leach said there is a possibility that Goetz won’t retain the spot because of inconsistent performance in practice, he likes how the unit performed.
“It was pretty good. I think that combination played together well,” he said.
It’s hard to find flaws with the job the line did shielding Halliday, who was sacked only once in 67 drop-backs last week. While that can partially be attributed to the ineptitude of Cal’s pass rushers — the team is last in the conference in sacks — Goetz and the offensive line played undeniably well.
“It’s a big improvement from last year,” center Elliott Bosch said. “We had a lot of sacks last year, and part of that’s Connor getting the ball out fast and being able to get rid of the ball when he has to. Part of it is we’ve improved as an offensive line and everyone is playing as a unit.”
NOT THINKING BOWL
A theme of WSU’s season has been treating every game equally — focusing only on the game ahead. The Cougars continued that refrain Monday, insisting that, with bowl eligibility just two wins away, the team is avoiding reflection on the favorable math.
“It’s the most wins I’ve had here, ever, with six games left, so that’s really promising,” kicker Andrew Furney said. “But at the same time we’ve got to look one game at a time, Oregon State this week.”