Do you trust Connor Halliday to get these interceptions fixed?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There's something interesting about when Connor Halliday throws his interceptions. Let's take a look at some of them, and then see what the situational stats can tell us about it. You might be surprised.

We're two thirds of the way through the season, and while the WSU Cougars aren't yet quite standing on the precipice of bowl eligibility, they can certainly see the precipice from where they're at -- 4-4 with four games remaining and Arizona State on tap tonight at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.

The prevailing opinion is that this team will go as far as quarterback Connor Halliday can take it. While it's questionable as to whether that's actually true after watching the defense give up greater than 7.0 yards per play for three of the last four games, I think we all probably can agree that Halliday at least has demonstrated the power to greatly help losses along with his proclivity for interceptions.

As I watched him melt down (again) against Oregon a week and a half ago, I started to wrestle with a question.

Do I have any confidence at all anymore that Halliday will eventually stop with these interceptions?

Don't confuse this with "should Mike Leach switch to Austin Apodaca?" Halliday is still the team's best chance to win two more games over the next four. My question is more of a long-range philosophical one. I've had some amount of confidence, ranging from "lots" to "less than before" on this front at varying times this season, but it hit an all-time low last game.

Here's why. Let's look at each of the four picks against the Ducks individually.

Interception 1: Vince Mayle falls down

Int-1_medium

This is one where I'm willing to give Halliday a semi-pass. He saw he had a one-on-one matchup with no safety help over the top and was trusting Mayle to be able to win a ball against a smaller corner. Would he have? Tough to say - the corner had excellent position, and that position is really the reason why Mayle's legs got tangled up. That said, he's counting on it being a jump ball, at the very least, andiIn that sense, it was unfortunate.

Interception 2: The Heave-Then-Hit Pick

Int2_medium

These are the ones that we've seen multiple times this year have fans wanting to wave goodbye to Halliday forever. And I can't say I blame them too much, as this is the genesis of my confidence question. With Oregon in two deep coverage, a floater down the middle of the field is probably the worst possible kind of throw. A quarterback really ought to know that and simply take the sack. There's just no excuse for this at all.

Interception 3: The Unnecessary Jump Pass Pick

Halliday-pick-gif_medium

Another Halliday favorite, unfortunately. With no pass rusher bearing down on him, he telegraphs the pass to a spot where he assumes a player will be open while jumping on the throw. This is reminiscent of the game-killing interception against Auburn where he made a bad read on the coverage and threw it up for an easy pick. Another pretty inexcusable mistake.

Interception 4: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Int4_medium

Am I going to kill Halliday for this one? Nope. It wasn't really a great throw - you can't tell from this angle, but it was pretty high and wide. Should Gabe Marks have caught it? It would've taken something pretty spectacular. This is just one of those no blame throws. These suck, but when you put the ball in the air 90 times, this kind of stuff will happen from time to time. If Marks gets his hand six inches higher, maybe it's deflected to the turf instead of up in the air. I can deal with interceptions like this - clean pocket, confident throw ... just not quite on target, then unlucky. It happens.

But why does this happen?

We've seen this enough times now that it's no longer surprising when it occurs -- it's just infuriating. Brian Anderson has said that he can't recall a quarterback as bipolar as Halliday. It's not like he's bad all the time. Sometimes, he's very, very good. As we've noted before, he had a great first half against the Ducks, throwing for over 300 yards on greater than 7 yards per attempt. Considering the competition, it was his best half of football all year.

But then the had four picks over the course of six possessions spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the fourth quarter, and a game that was reasonably competitive turned into a laugher.

The big question -- which ties into how confident we can be that this will stop -- is simply this: Is there any rhyme or reason to this?

I think there is. I dug into some situational stats, and there seems to be little rhyme or reason to when he throws these interceptions. Except for this:

Connor Halliday through 8 games in 2013
Situation Att Comp Pct. Yards TD TD% Int Int%
Winning 145 100 69.0 1109 9 6.2% 5 3.4%
Tied 90 60 66.7 693 4 4.4% 1 1.1%
Losing 193 113 58.5 996 5 2.6% 11 5.7%

Notice how his interception rate goes up when the Cougars fall behind? Here it is broken down even further, with the much maligned quarterback rating thrown in, just in case you're into that sort of thing:

Connor Halliday through 8 games in 2013
Situation Att Comp Pct. Yards TD TD% Int Int% Rating
Winning By 15+ Pts 58 43 74.1 396 3 5.2% 1 1.7% 145.12
Winning By 8-14 Pts 26 15 57.7 184 2 7.7% 1 3.8% 134.83
Winning By 1-7 Pts 61 42 68.9 529 4 6.6% 3 4.9% 153.49
Tied 90 60 66.7 693 4 4.4% 1 1.1% 143.8
Losing By 1-7 Pts 86 43 50 369 1 1.2% 4 4.7% 80.58
Losing By 8-14 Pts 47 30 63.8 281 1 2.1% 3 6.4% 108.3
Losing By 15+ Pts 60 40 66.7 346 3 5.0% 4 6.7% 118.28

As the game slips farther and farther out of hand, Halliday throws interceptions with greater frequency.

What could it mean? It could mean that the teams that the Cougs have fallen behind are excellent teams and interceptions are therefore more likely to occur, anyway. But that would ignore what Mike Leach himself has said about his Halliday -- namely, that he can't keep trying to score multiple touchdowns with a single throw.

And then there's this:

Connor Halliday through 8 games in 2013
Situation Att Comp Pct. Yards TD TD% Int Int% Rating
Own 1 To 20 Yd Ln 36 25 69.4 243 0 0.0% 2 5.6% 115.03
Own 21 To 39 Yd Ln 139 94 67.6 995 2 1.4% 6 4.3% 123.88
Own 40 To Opp 40 Yd Ln 120 80 66.7 911 3 2.5% 2 1.7% 135.36
Opp 39 To 21 Yd Ln 80 47 58.8 446 2 2.5% 2 2.5% 108.83
Opp 20 To 1 Yd Ln (RZ) 53 27 50.9 203 11 20.8% 5 9.4% 132.73

While two in 10 throws in the red zone ends up as a touchdown, nearly one in 10 ends up in the opponents' hands.

The implication is clear: When the pressure gets on -- whether figurative pressure to lead the team back into the game or put it in the end zone, or the literal pressure of a man in his face -- Halliday struggles to continue to make good decisions.

So back to the original question. Do you feel like he can get this fixed?

Part of me is actually encouraged by this. If he had no moments of brilliance, it would be a lost cause. In fact, Halliday goes beyond "moments" -- he often has sustained brilliance. This all suggests that whatever is going on, it's in his head.

But how do you coach a guy into being more composed? Is that even possible?

Athletes talk about guys who have "it" - that moxy (or whatever you want to call it) that allows them to be "clutch" (or whatever you want to call it) when the moment calls for it. I don't tend to believe in clutch -- I tend to think the best players make the best plays. Everyone has marveled at David Ortiz for the last week, but the guy is the greatest DH in the history of the game (sorry Edgar!) and I'm certain he's had similar hot streaks in his career.

But I do definitely believe there's such a thing as "unclutch" -- the ability to short circuit your own ability to perform at your highest level. And while this evidence is hardly conclusive, it suggests we might have a little bit of that going on here with Halliday.

Maybe he needs a sports psychologist. I don't know. But whatever it is, this propensity to fall apart at the point where the pressure is greatest is what seems to be holding Halliday back from being a truly great quarterback.

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