The most important person vs. Auburn: Connor Halliday

William Mancebo

It's season two under Mike Leach and the Air Raid. Last year, when Connor Halliday failed, the Cougs could 'fall back' on Jeff Tuel until the senior took back the starting job for good. Now, there's no safety net for the redshirt junior.

Connor Halliday did something not many quarterbacks do in their debut. He shattered freshman quarterbacking records at a school known for having some pretty good quarterbacks. In the bitter cold of a November night in Pullman, Halliday threw all over Arizona State for nearly half a millennia of yards. Forget the fact that against Utah he tossed four balls to players in the wrong colored jersey, he lacerated his liver and still managed to finish the game.

This was the Connor Halliday we were introduced to: the strong armed, tough, gritty gunslinger (DRINK!) who willed WSU to a win over the Sun Devils and almost repeated it the following week. Jeff Tuel was still the incumbent starter for the 2012 season but it looked like his back-up would be more than capable.

Enter Mike Leach and he adoration for Connor Halliday's style. Tuel's injury against Eastern Washington gave Leach the opportunity he was looking for to throw Halliday under center. He had good games against UNLV and Colorado before he exited the game against Oregon late in favor of the now healthy Tuel. That's when the trouble began.

Halliday imploded against Oregon State, throwing three interceptions in 20 passing attempts as Leach jumped back and forth between him and Tuel for three hours. For the rest of the season, the quarterback door continued to revolve, its momentum never ceasing in a previously undiscovered perpetual quarterback motion device.

By the end of the year, Halliday had barely completed half his passes and barely had a positive ratio in the touchdowns to interceptions column. The touchdown raid on Arizona State seemed a distant memory after a season of inconsistent, moody and throw into any coverage quarterbacking.

But for Halliday (and Leach for that matter) there was a safety net in Tuel. Even though the senior should've been the starter when healthy, he was there to bail Halliday out even though he often came in when it was too late to salvage the game.

In 2013, the safety net is gone. Tuel is busy being a starting quarterback in the NFL and behind Halliday is a redshirt freshman without an iota of college experience and a true freshman who just got his first college class under his belt. No one is there to come in put a band aid on the bleeding; no one can swoop in and save Halliday from throwing more gas on the fire.

It's the first game of a season that truly belongs to Halliday. Barring an injury he's the guy from now to the end of November. By all accounts, he has improved by leaps and bounds over last season. As our two Brians pointed out last October and Halliday recently outlined in an interview with Cougfan, the transition from Todd Sturdy's offense to Leach's was harder than we first thought. Going from being handed a novel every week to being given the keys to the car is a rough transition.

This offense goes as Connor Halliday goes. More games with completion percentages in the 50's and more interceptions than touchdowns and it's going to be another long year. But if Halliday has improved, keeps his completion percentage up and doesn't throw into triple coverage because hey, why the hell not, putting up enough points to win every couple of weeks shouldn't be a problem.

The Cougars' early season schedule doesn't really do him any favors though. From the hot and loud Auburn, the Cougars go to hot and loud Los Angeles. The Tigers may not have had a stellar 2012 but they're still an SEC team and it's never easy to go on the road in the sweatbox known as Alabama in late summer. Toss in a preseason top-25 team with a coach on the hot seat and you've got a tough couple of weeks.

I'm not expecting Halliday to come in and throw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns this season. But lucky for Halliday, wide receiver is nine players deep and everyone is capable of making plays. If Halliday has time to throw (and that's another issue entirely) we could see a return to the gunslinger (DRINK!) we knew in 2011, not the inconsistent, coverage be damned quarterback we knew last year.

It goes without saying but I'm going to do it anyway: there is no player more important to the Cougars' success this season than Connor Halliday. If he has a couple bad weeks, Jeff Tuel can't come in and give him a break.

No pressure Connor but, it's kind of, sort of, not really but it really is on you. I mean, sure, the defense still needs to play well to win but as far as the offense goes, it's all you man. So go out there and be the big armed gunslinger (DRINK!) we know you can be. You don't have to beat Auburn but not getting humiliated sure would be nice.

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