"Hello world, my name is Connor Halliday." He didn't open his post-game press conference this way, but Halliday probably should have. In many ways, Saturday was Halliday's coming out party, and the Cougars' bowl hopes are still alive as a result.
Sure, Halliday had seen action before, playing in mop-up duty against Idaho State and UNLV. He admitted after Saturday's game that the two previous appearances were akin to playing high school ball. It was nothing like what he was about to face as he took the field against Arizona State.
"The snaps I'e gotten before just kind of felt like another high school game," Halliday said. "I mean, I didn't get touched. Taking my first hit, first play, that was a good way to get things started and go from there."
Heading into the game, a plan was put into place. Marshall Lobbestael was scheduled to take the first two series, then Halliday would take over and go from there. The plan was not, however, to keep Halliday in for the rest of the game. The coaching staff wanted to take a wait-and-see approach, going with the hot hand, essentially. And then Halliday found Marquess Wilson for 86 yards and the touchdown on his first play from scrimmage, his first meaningful snap.
"We knew going into it, we were probably going to give him the third series. Unless Marshall came out and put us on two scoring drives, maybe that would've changed it. But our plan all along was to put him in on the third series and go from there," head coach Paul Wulff said. "The plan was we were gonna put him in for a series or two and see how it went. First play, he scored a touchdown, so we just kept on going."
"I didn't want to go into a scenario where he's starting in a game like this," offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said. "That was why we planned on the third series. It's just like I told Connor, 'If Marshall comes out and scores five series in a row, you ain't playin'.'"
The offense sputtered out of the gate and the rest was history. Halliday entered the game on the third series, as planned, and immediately put his stamp on the game, hitting Marquess Wilson for a momentum-swinging touchdown. It was just what the kid from Spokane needed to put the wheels in motion.
It's natural to wonder where this was before, why Halliday wasn't playing earlier this season. Did the coaches make a mistake not throwing him into the fire and putting him on the field weeks ago, after Jeff Tuel went down with an injury and Lobbestael struggled?
Halliday has always had the physical tools to succeed. He's got a big arm, can make all the throws and has supreme confidence -- perhaps a cockiness -- in his abilities. However, until recently he'd been unable to grasp the offense and the complexity of the scheme. Being able to make all the throws in the world doesn't matter if they're not going to the right places.
About five weeks ago, everything started to click in practice. The streaky kid who could rip-off 20 perfect passes in a row while running the scout team finally began to understand the complexities of Sturdy's offense. His ability to diagnose a defense has improved rapidly, and his command of the offense at the line-of-scrimmage increased as a result.
On Saturday, it all came together in ways even those of us who have watched him closely outside of game situations couldn't imagine. He got hot early and, true to form, never slowed down. Once Halliday gets on a roll, it's best to just get out of his way and let him throw. When the game boils down to "see man, hit man" for the youngster, he's as dangerous as anyone.
Remember that confidence in his abilities that borders on a quiet cockiness? After the game, his attention turned back to Arizona State and the recruiting process he went through going into his senior year of high school. The Cougars were in on Halliday early, making it clear he was their No. 1 choice. Arizona State, however, had Halliday as a fall-back option. He remembers it well.
"I went down there in June in my recruiting process and threw for coach Erickson. They told me they had another guy they wanted to offer. He ended up decommitting," Halliday said. "When he decommitted, they kinda came back after me. I'm not gonna go somewhere where I'm not their first option. I think that's ... just goes to show you maybe Mr. Erickson made a mistake."
Maybe the Sun Devils did make a mistake. Maybe it's too early to tell. Either way, Halliday opened eyes on Saturday as he carved up the Arizona State defense. And perhaps Saturday's win was a sign of things to come.
"He's a great kid," Sturdy said, beaming like a proud father. "He's gonna have a career here. I'm happy for him."