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WSU vs. Cal football: Sleep-deprived thoughts on a record-breaking loss

Connor Halliday and the WSU offense broke records last night, and we shouldn't let the rest of the team's failures tarnish that.

William Mancebo

Sometimes in sports, there's a player having such a special night that it almost feels like his team can't lose. To lose would spoil said special night, putting a figurative asterisk next to whatever impressive totals that player amassed. Unfortunately, in team sports, special performances go unrewarded all the time.

There's no denying that Cal's pass defense is terrible, we knew that going into last night. But that's still an FBS defense, and Connor Halliday was shredding it with ease on Saturday. He ended up with one of those special box scores--an NCAA record 734 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. In total he led his offense to 59 points, and put it in prime position to get over 60 for the win.

And that's the problem: WSU needed 61 points from its offense to win last night. After three stops to start the game, the Cougar defense let Cal score every time. In the second half, every Golden Bear possession ended in a touchdown. And still, the Cougs were right there at the end, thanks to that special performance from Halliday and his receivers.

But a certain Coug alum who writes for the Seattle Times saw it differently, apparently. According to Bud Withers, putting up 734 yards and 59 points wasn't enough from Halliday. It's "on him" that the Cougars lost, Withers says.

It's easy to blame the quarterback for everything in the Air Raid. An Air Raid quarterback has as much responsibility for his team's success as any position in team sports. In fact, it's so easy that whenever an Air Raid quarterback's team loses close to midnight and a writer has a deadline, that writer can lazily apply the 'QB's fault" narrative and be done with it.

Because who wants to spread the blame to a defense that gave up 46 points? Or a special teams unit that gave up 14 and missed a 19-yard field goal? That requires some nuance, but I guess sometimes a nuanced thesis is too hard for a column writer on a deadline. Gotta have that easy narrative that gets the clicks. And hey, he got mine this time!

Let's get back to Halliday and the offense, though. I've been encouraged, beyond that Seattle Times column, that many people are appreciating the uniqueness of last night. Halliday had three different receivers top 100 yards--Vince Mayle grabbed 11 balls for 263 yards, River Cracraft hauled in 11 catches for 172 yards and Dom Williams snagged five passes for 107 yards. Isiah Myers fell just short of the century mark, catching nine of 96, and he would have had 100 had he "completed the catch" (which apparently requires a receiver to roll over twice in the endzone with the ball) on what would have been Halliday's seventh touchdown.

There's wasn't really a moment where Halliday was nearly intercepted, either--save for two penalty-negated plays where it appeared he knew the flags were coming. He certainly missed some throws, but far less than one would expect when a QB is chucking it 70 times. He hit 49 of those 70 passes, with a few receiver drops mixed in. He hit Mayle and Cracraft in perfect stride on deep balls for long touchdowns with the type of touch that eluded him last season.

The unfortunate thing from a fan's perspective was that Halliday and the offense were so automatic that touchdowns seemed inevitable outcomes, not accomplishments--and on the defensive side the story was the same. For much of the time when WSU had the ball last night, instead of enjoying the display of perfect Air Raid execution, I was dreading what would happen if the Cougars didn't score.

That dread wasn't unfounded, it turns out. WSU could only afford one trip where it didn't score--35 second-half points would not be enough to hold an 11-point halftime lead.

With that, I can't lament any of what the offense did. Sure, it could have scored a touchdown (and nearly-might've-kinda-looks-like it did), but WSU didn't need a touchdown to win. It just needed a field goal, and Halliday and company made it as close a field goal as possible. In my mind, the offense did enough to win, it was special teams and defense that didn't hold up their end of the bargain.

So don't let a missed field goal, horrendous kickoff coverage and swiss cheese defense tarnish your view of Halliday's record-breaking, 734-yard effort last night. It was special, and to expect anything more would be forgetting that.