PULLMAN – Connor Halliday’s breakout game for Washington State made for great theater.
That’s more than a little odd, since movie producers would summarily reject a script based on Halliday’s sensational game Saturday. Too good to be true, they’d say.
Hollywood’s loss is Pullman’s gain. Halliday, a reed-thin redshirt freshman who had not played in nine weeks, replaced senior Marshall Lobbestael on WSU’s third possession and, on his first play, fired an 85-yard touchdown pass to Marquess Wilson.
Halliday was just getting started. In his first extensive action since high school, playing in light snow most of the game with WSU’s bowl hopes on the line on national television, Halliday threw for 494 yards and four TDs in the 37-27 win over Arizona State.
“Throwing for 500 yards was never in my thought process going into the game,” Halliday said. “I didn’t even know how much I was going to play.”
WSU coach Paul Wulff issued a classic understatement when he said, “We didn’t know he was going to play at that level or we would have played him a lot (sooner).”
Wilson labeled Halliday’s performance “phenomenal.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, preparing to face Halliday this Saturday in Pullman, said Wilson makes a valid point about Halladay’s big game.
“That’s a career day for a lot of guys,” Whittingham said. “That’s his numbers after his first opportunity.”
Halliday (the “Hall” rhymes with “pal”), who comes from Spokane and who saw limited action in two blowout victories to open the season, will make his first start Saturday after last week’s pre-arranged appearance in the third offensive series.
Wulff, attempting to downplay expectations of a repeat performance, notes that some players struggle in their first start after starring in a reserve role.
“You’re a little more relaxed coming off the bench,” he said.
Halliday, though, doesn’t seem worried.
“I did that third-series deal (when he would be inserted into the game) my sophomore year at Lewis and Clark High School,” Halliday recalled. “I was always nervous coming off the bench.”
Halliday was so unhappy about sharing the quarterback job at Lewis and Clark that he transferred to arch-rival Ferris for his final two seasons of high school football.
Halliday said the ensuing controversy helped him develop “thick skin.” It also helped him develop into a record-setting passer who threw for 43 touchdowns and nearly 4,200 yards his senior season in Ferris’ wide-open, spread offense.
Wulff said WSU coaches were impressed with Halliday’s powerful right arm and his competitive nature in high school.
Halliday, the son of former Boise State quarterback Duane Halliday, is not lacking for confidence heading into his first college start.
“Now that I’ll have a week to watch more film, get more reps with the (starters), I just think it’ll get easier,” Halliday said.
Mind you, Halliday isn’t predicting he’ll again throw for 494 yards. That total ranks second in WSU history and 10th in conference history, going back to the Pacific-12’s origins in 1916. No freshman in conference history had ever thrown for as many yards.
“We knew he could make some plays,” Wulff said. “We knew he was going to do some things that we weren’t getting from the position.
“He really did a great job.”
Wulff said Halliday began practicing better in recent weeks after coaches met with him to emphasize the need to “step up” if he wanted playing time.
Halliday’s so-so practices, combined with Lobbestael’s high-quality performances in relief of injured Jeff Tuel, kept Halliday on the sideline until Saturday.
Wulff is already talking about a potential battle between Halliday and Tuel for the starting job next year. For now, Halliday is focused on beating Utah this week and Washington next week to make the Cougars (4-6) bowl eligible.
Whenever the season ends, Wulff hopes the 6-foor-4, 179-pound Halliday can finally put on some weight.
“Whenever I see him,” Wulff jokes, “I say, ‘Eat!’ ”