As we Cougar fans are well aware, everything is better after a win. The air seems fresher, the grass looks greener, the commute goes faster and the beer tastes better. The information is also processed, disseminated and consumed much more easily after a win, making it easy to write. The only thing that isn't always so easy is figuring out which performance stood out above the rest. It is definitely a good dilemma to have, though, and I hope it continues.
Had this game ended after six minutes, this column would have been nothing but a blank space. The game lasts sixty minutes however, and there were worthy performances throughout. Charleston White continues to show why he was inserted ahead of a senior. Jeremiah Allison has really stepped forward since he assumed a starting role, and he tallied another 13 tackles, two for loss on Saturday.
All Dom Williams did was make two huge 4th down catches for touchdowns. Vince Mayle had his usual solid game, catching the other two scores, including the winning one that went 81 yards. He began the play by using his hands violently (as Mike Leach always preaches) to separate from press coverage. The Morrow/Wicks duo was also outstanding, averaging a combined 5.5 yards-per-carry. Unfortunately, there can be only one winner.
2nd Runner-Up: Kache Palacio
This could really be a co-runner-up with Ivan Mclennan. McLennan may have not had a big game stat-wise, but he was causing problems for Utah much of the night. Palacio, though, made one of the plays that changed the game. In the third quarter, he hustled after a Utah player 20 yards down field, stripped him from behind, and made the recovery. That vital turnover was followed by a touchdown drive, and provided me with my first feeling that we could actually come back and win. He also assisted on the one sack of Travis Wilson (not counting the refs missing a sack by McLennan late in the game), and had another TFL.
1st Runner-Up: Connor Halliday
When the clock expired on the first half Saturday night, I would have never imagined that Halliday would have been among the game's top players. He threw a pick six that started the avalanche of Utah points in the first quarter, and also tossed a killer interception in Utah territory in the second quarter. He also, for some reason, kept throwing the ball despite the fact that the running game was having success. He finished the half just 17-34 for 150 yards.
The second half was another story. Halliday was nealy perfect. He checked to more runs, many of which resulted on decent-to-good gains. He was very accurate, and made great decisions. In the second half, he was 22-27 for 267 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. He did have one turnover which was nearly disastrous, but it looked to be a case of a slick ball and his penchant for trying to get rid of the ball quickly. Simply put, there aren't many quarterbacks who can lead their team out of a 21-point hole to win, on the road, in bad weather. Halliday did it.
One more note about the weather...if you ask any coach or quarterback which weather condition they hate the most, they won't say rain, snow, heat or anything else. The one element they hate having to play in is the wind. That is compounded manifold of you pass as often as WSU does. The wind looked far worse than those of us at home could have known. If you saw the reaction of the WSU fans after Mayle scored the winning TD, you saw jackets and ponchos getting whipped around by the wind. This post-game report from the field (H/T B-Lot Tailgater) shows trash blowing around the field (and kids chasing after it), which should also give you an idea of how windy it was. The fact that Halliday was able to complete 81 percent of his passes for nearly 10 YPA is incredible.
Winner: River Cracraft
Ok, so I just spent three paragraphs telling you how incredible Halliday's performance was, and I'm giving the award to someone else? In short, yes. Cracraft has been really good all season, and judging by his performance this year, we REALLY missed him in the Nevada game. Seemingly every time WSU needs to convert on 3rd down, Cracraft gets it done. He is also fearless going over the middle, and came up with big play after big play Saturday.
Cracraft caught a team-leading nine passes for 126 yards. Of those nine receptions, eight (EIGHT!!!) resulted in a first down. And yet, his biggest play may have been his shortest gain of the night. WSU trailed 27-21 in the 4th quarter and, after a sneaky-good effort by Rickey Galvin on second down, faced 3rd and three at their own 15. I knew Halliday was going to Cracraft, you knew Halliday was going to Cracraft, hell, even Glenn Parker (We are Washington STATE, Glenn) knew he was going to Cracraft. Sure enough, Cracraft caught a pass for four yards and a first down. On the next play, Vince Mayle caught a slant and took it the distance.
Cracraft has made the plays that needed to be made all year. That's pretty damn impressive for a true sophomore. He runs precise routes, he has excellent hands, he's a tenacious blocker, and you know that if we absolutely have to have a first down, Cracraft will deliver. He's so good that young River Preston may soon be crawling around Michael's house a few years down the road.