WSU vs. Auburn: Where Connor Halliday went wrong

Michael Chang

We look back at Connor Halliday's three interceptions to see where things went wrong against Auburn.

I'll preface this by saying it'll showcase the bad, and only the bad. Connor Halliday wasn't all terrible, but intermixed with moments that left many of us saying "he's getting it" were head-shaking, face in hands moments. Halliday made mistakes that can be corrected. But boy were they tough to watch.

We'll walk through each of Halliday's three interceptions, breaking down where things went wrong and how each play could've been handled better. Each could've been avoided, and each resulted from a different sequence of mistakes. And one was more frustrating than the rest.

Act I: A tight window

Halliday's first interception came late in the first quarter with the Cougs holding a 7-0 lead. It was on first and 10, and the ball was near midfield. Up until the interception, the Cougs had been relatively solid, and were once again moving the ball after starting with good field position and picking up a quick first down. All that came undone, however.

The route Halliday was looking at was a simple stick. The slot receiver to his left runs about five yards and presents a target. Here's a look at things just before Halliday threw the ball.

Int1_throw_medium

There's a window here, in a way, but it's dependent on Brett Bartolone shielding the defender with his body and making the catch in traffic. The problem, though, lies with when the ball was thrown and where.

Observe:

Int1_medium

Halliday got the ball out quickly, before Bartolone was all the way out of his break -- which is a good thing. Bartolone turned inside, to the gap between the nickel corner and linebacker. Halliday threw to the outside shoulder, where the corner was waiting (and made a nice play on the ball).

Had Halliday come off the stick, it's possible he'd have an outlet in the flat -- the outside receiver clears out the corner, who bails, and Jeremiah Laufasa takes over the vacated space. Not throwing the ball behind the wide receiver also would've helped, as would being on the same page.

Act II: Trying to do too much

This interception is the Connor Halliday paradox. He can be brilliant and make every single throw. On the flip side, he has so much confidence that he tries to make every single throw every single time he drops back to pass, no matter the risk.

As the pocket begins to collapse up the middle, Halliday rolls right -- to the short side of the field. Without getting set, and while leaving his feet, he throws to the deep man in the scramble drill. And, yeah ... armpunt:

Int2_medium

The ball should've never been thrown. Sure, it took a heck of a play by a leaping defensive back to pull in the interception, but the throw was essentially a jump ball. Halliday has to live to fight another day, especially on first down.

Act III: The backbreaking decision

Halliday's third interception is the one that warrants the most attention. It was first and goal on the eight with the Cougs down by a touchdown as time ticked down in the fourth. The offense moved the ball well to get into position to score on a drive Halliday commanded very well. This is what he saw before the snap.

Int3_pre_medium

As the play gets underway, the outside receiver releases vertically to run a post (which is supposed to hold a safety). Rickey Galvin releases outside like he's running a quick out, then will wheel towards the back corner of the end zone. The inside receiver runs half of a mesh, while the outside receiver on the left runs the other half of the same route combination. The running back will leak to fill in the space the outside receiver on the left vacated.

Here's how it looks as Halliday hits his back foot:

Int3_drop_medium

Note that just about everyone is looking into the backfield. The defensive back on Rickey Galvin in maintaining a cushion and hasn't broken on the route here. In order for this to work, he has to bite.

Int3_throw_medium

As Galvin turns to wheel, the defensive back nearest to him has his eyes in the backfield. He was never fooled, and instead stays in his stance and backpedals. He never needs to bail, and instead keeps everything under control. Additionally, there's safety help coming.

Int3-gif_medium

Halliday called it an underthrow, but I'm not sure where this ball could've gone. There's a man underneath and a man coming over the top, bracketing Galvin.

Now look in the middle of the screen. Had Halliday come off the first man post/wheel route combination, the mesh to the slot is open. The Auburn backer leaks to cover the running back in the flat, leaving a hole. If that ball is thrown to Bobby Ratliff, it's probably a touchdown and a tied ballgame.

There is a common thread that links each of these interceptions together. All three occurred on first down, which makes each even more frustrating -- moreso the final two than the first. Halliday had the chance to throw the ball away, or even try to get a yard or two on the ground, on a scramble late in the first quarter. Instead he threw the ball deep into coverage. He didn't need to swing for the fences on the final interception, and had he come off his first read may have in fact thrown a touchdown pass.

And therein lies the issue with Halliday at times. He's a smart kid, and we saw flashes of brilliance and a deeper understanding of the offense on Saturday. He also has supreme confidence in his arm and tends to try to do too much, leading to moments of jaw-agape amazement as well as fiery explosions that leave wreckage everywhere.

In the Air Raid, it's all about getting the ball to men in space, making the correct reads and throws, and limiting mistakes. While Leach's reputation has been that of a man who runs an offense that wings the ball all over the play (and gets vertical), there's a method to his madness, and he preaches finding the open man whether long or short. Many times, considering the coverage, dinking and dunking is the right play.

Halliday can learn from Saturday. He has to learn from Saturday. The good news, however, is that his mistakes were correctable. How he bounces back this coming weekend will say a lot about where he's heading this season.

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