The Next Big Step?


Greetings Cougs, and a happy Humpday to you and yours.  As always, we hope things are good as we continue to grind our way through another week.

Personally, well, I’m stressed.  Work for me is usually pretty steady in full, billable weeks, but my crazy time as we push for revenue is always the biggest in the 4th quarter (kind of like football?).  But it seems the really busy season came, oh, about a month early this year.  In other words I’ve been in “Q4″ mode since Labor Day, which is good if you like to work but bad if you would rather write blog posts and hang out on message boards all day.  But I’ve got a wife/kids/dogs/career like anyone else, so, times like this the blog posting volume sorta drops off.  A big thanks to Sutra for keeping us all afloat!

Speaking of blog posting and volume and all that, I have to ask – how in the hell does CougCenter do it?  I mean they are really good, I’m not asking how they do what they do.  But how in the HELL do they crank out the volume of posts, day after day, week after week?  They are doing truly amazing work over there and I continue to tip my hat their direction and be amazed at what they do.  I had an email exchange with Jeff Nusser way back when CougCenter first got started, and he always said that his goal wasn’t to just be another blog in the stratosphere.  They wanted to build a community, and they have done exactly that.  Nice work Nuss, keep doing what you do.

Anyway, we’ll continue to plod along here, now in our 10th year of existence.  Crazy but true, as we first launched at the start of the 2004 WSU football season with this new thing called a “web log”, or blog for short.  The volume will never be what it once was, but we’re still here.

So, how about that Oregon game?  Yeah, we lost and it was tough to take.  But what a night on the Palouse!  Per Jason Krump on Twitter:

She sure is purty!

The stadium was packed and loud, it was the hated Oregon Ducks, the team was rocking the all-white alternate uni’s with white lids, ESPN on a warm mid-September evening, etc, etc, ETC!  The kids played hard and fast and brought it for 4 quarters, and for a night at least we went toe-to-toe vs. the #2 team in the country.

But above all else, I think I am taking with me that night is that it showed what CAN be in Pullman.  Martin Stadium used to be a tough little place to play, and this night was a throwback to the best of times.

But that’s it.  For the old saying is oh so true – honor the past, sure, but if you LIVE in the past, you will STAY in the past.  Good, bad or otherwise, Saturday night is now gone and it’s time to move forward.  And that’s my biggest question as we rapidly approach the Utah game.  Was the Oregon game really a glimpse as to what the rest of the season is going to be like, where the Cougs are slugging it out with every opponent left on the 2014 schedule?  Or was that just a one-game thing that caught Oregon with their pants down a little bit?  After all, the Ducks offensive line is already a mess this early in the season, starting 3rd stringers and walk-ons along the offensive front.  Their first road game with a patchwork line in a loud venue, well, they struggled a bit, no doubt about it.  I mean who saw 7 sacks of Marcus Mariota coming?

The Coug front seven brought it all night, and looked by far the fastest and most physical they have been all season.  But again, was that a one-night “magic” kind of thing, or can they scrape themselves off the mat after a heartbreaking upset bid fell short and get it revved up again this week on the road?

I think that’s the hardest thing of all in not being cynical in all this.  For if there is anything you can count on, it’s that it’s tough to predict what 18-22 year old kids are going to do on a weekly basis!  That’s an old Keith Jackson saying I once heard him say in a broadcast like 25 years ago, when trying to explain how teams can be so “iffy” week to week.  One week they can look outstanding at home in front of a hot crowd, the next time out on the road, well, it’s hard to get it cranked up again, you know?

One thing that we can start to get our arms around though is the play of the QB.  Connor Halliday had a really strong night vs. Oregon – 43-for-63, 436 yards, 4 TD’s to zero INT’s, completing 68% of his passes on the evening.  And with the Nevada game aside, he’s been pretty much “on point” for 2014.  I know, people love to pick him apart when he makes a mistake.  God knows the kid isn’t perfect, far from it in fact and it seems like he is still learning and growing in the offense.  With that growth comes mistakes, it’s just part of the process.

But I was talking to my good friend Sutra the other day, and we were discussing what a great season would be for an Air Raid QB.  Before the season started, we both felt that yards and points would be the theme this year, and for the most part that’s been correct.  But a few landmark numbers stood out when discussing what would be considered a great season for this offense, and they were these 3 points – 5,000 yards, 40+ TD, and INT’s in the teens.  Given the talent at wideout that they have on the roster, and Halliday’s experience, it seemed like 5,000/40/INT’s in the teens was a hopeful, yet realistic goal.

BUT, what if I told you that HALLIDAY HAS ALREADY DONE THAT??!?!

It’s true.  Now hang with me for a moment, you’ll see where I’m going.

Let’s say a typical college football season is 12 games.  Not including a trip to Hawaii which allows for that 13th game, plus a bowl game of course, but generally everyone in the power five conferences plays 12 games in the regular season.  Pac-12 teams play nine conference games, leaving three OOC games to fill out the schedule, but we can all agree that 12 games is a typical season.

Well, so far in 2014 we’ve played four games.  In those four games, Connor Halliday has thrown for 1,901 yards, 16 TD’s and thrown five interceptions.  I looked at those numbers and thought you know, that looks a lot like the numbers Halliday was hanging up down the stretch at the end of 2013, when the team beat Arizona on the road and rang up 49 points on the Utes in Pullman.  Actually if you go back to the ASU game in 2013, Halliday from that point forward in five games to end 2013 had 16 TD’s and five INT’s, which is exactly what he has now in four games.  

But then take it back even further, I thought, and let’s see what he’s done if you go back a full 12 games.  That is, look at the last eight games Halliday played in 2013 including the bowl game, and now the first four games in 2014, for a full 12 games.

Starting with the Cal game on 10/5/13, here are the numbers for what would be a full Air Raid season:

Games: 12
Completions: 463
Attempts: 729
Completion percentage:  63.5%
Yards:  5,026
TD’s:  40
INT’s:  18

So there it is.

Most of you know I am a big Halliday fan, but these aren’t cherry picked stats to try and support “confirmation bias”.  These are the numbers for Connor Halliday in his last 12 games.  Before 2014, I thought if he could throw for 5,000+ yards, 40+ TD’s, and INT’s in the teens with a completion percentage in the mid-60’s or so, I would take that 100 times out of 100.  And yet, Halliday has ALREADY DONE IT.

But of course, there is the bad news.  In those 12 games, the team is under .500 with just a 4-8 record, including a 1-3 start to this year.  Some of those losses really shouldn’t be laid at his feet though, when you think about just the Rutgers game or the Colorado State game last year where the offense played really well.  The team was let down in other areas in those games, from defensive lapses and special teams miscues at the worst possible time, and even the biggest Halliday Hater can’t argue that too much?

But this is just kind of where we are as a program right now.  As much as some of you want to rail on the kid, the numbers don’t lie.  He may be a product of a system that can add to the stat line, but it’s really difficult to downplay those numbers in the last year. And we only need to look back at some of the best seasons under Leach in his past to see that Halliday measures up.

For example, in 2008 Mike Leach had probably his best team at Texas Tech.  Graham Harrell threw for 5,111 yards that year.  He led the nation in pass completions (442), pass attempts (626), and was third in the nation in TD’s (45).  All fairly comparable to what Halliday has done in his last 12 games, although Harrell threw for a better completion percentage (70%) and threw just 9 INT’s, half of what Halliday has thrown in his last 12 games.  But also know that was Graham Harrell’s senior year, where he was on his third full season as the starter under Leach at Tech and had over 1300 pass attempts coming in to that final year, all in the same system.

Harrell would finish 4th in Heisman voting that year, as Texas Tech would finish 11-2 and won a share of the Big 12 South title, the only time Leach at least tied for the division lead in his career.  Meanwhile, we’re 4-8 in our last 12 games and have, uh, found a few ways to lose some awfully frustrating games.

So, obviously Halliday has put up the similar numbers to what would be expected for an Air Raid QB.  In other words, he is doing exactly what the coaches are asking him to do.  But overall, they just need to take that next step as a team to make all those great numbers mean something.

I hope that last Saturday was really the start of something big.  I hope the young defense continues to improve as the young faces in the secondary fly around and get their shot and the stout front seven makes big plays up the field.  I hope Halliday and the offense keep taking steps forward, getting more and more efficient as the season rolls on.  I hope this team is ready to take the next big step….

I hope I can make it across the border.  I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope….

All for now.  Enjoy your Humpday and of course, GO COUGS!