By Jacob Thorpe The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — When Washington State was at its worst during its deflating loss to Rutgers last Thursday, senior quarterback Connor Halliday was at his best. After a costly turnover in the fourth quarter, Halliday ran over to the offending receiver but did not express his frustration. Instead, he gave him a high-five and a smile.
“I was just telling him that we’re going to need another score and I’m going to be coming back to you so forget about that,” Halliday said. “We’re going to win this game and we’ll laugh about it later.”
Halliday went back to the receiver but the Cougars did not win and it’s doubtful that the fourth quarter of WSU’s final Seattle game will bring back many pleasant memories. But people may remember that as a defining moment in Halliday’s growth as a quarterback.
Halliday is not a heavy man and he’s had to absorb more hits over the years than most quarterbacks. In the past, Halliday’s frustration became more apparent as the sacks mounted. But after each of three grimace-inducing hits on Thursday, Halliday was upbeat, and his postgame praise for his young offensive linemen was effusive.
The prolific quarterback has turned into a positive leader, and his teammates appreciate it.
“He was calm; he was more poised,” receiver Vince Mayle said. “We talk after every drive … if things didn’t go our way he was more positive and ‘let’s get it going.’ That was good.”
Halliday’s progress as a leader mirrors his progress as a passer, and it’s natural that with more success has come less stress.
That “coach-on-the-field” mentality became apparent this offseason during workouts, when Halliday was the team’s coach during the times head coach Mike Leach and his staff weren’t allowed to be with the players.
“I think he really took off the middle of last season and did a lot of great things,” Leach said.
“I think most of his success and effectiveness as a leader happens off the field, that you don’t have the opportunity to see but he leads the effort, the focus, all that stuff,” the coach added.
Cougars shake up secondary
Washington State fans had their questions about the Cougars’ inexperienced secondary answered on the first play of the season, and it wasn’t what they were hoping for.
The Scarlet Knights came out in an odd formation, causing players and coaches to yell to cornerback Tracy Clark that something special was coming, and that he should give his receiver a cushion.
Clark hesitated and Leonte Carroo blew past the corner to get open for a deep pass, and then outraced safety Teondray Caldwell to the end zone. When the Cougars face Nevada on Thursday, neither player will be in the starting lineup.
Washington State released an updated depth chart on Monday and Daquawn Brown, who started at field cornerback on Thursday, has replaced Clark at boundary cornerback. Charleston White will start in Brown’s former position.
Additionally, Darius Lemora has been inserted as the starting strong safety. Lemora played extensively in Thursday’s game, and the defense as a whole appeared to play better with the redshirt freshman on the field.
Coaches said that Caldwell played well, particularly for a recently converted running back. But Lemora’s physicality is tough to replicate and could be a game-changer for a team that struggled to stop the run.
“He’s always been a big hitter; he’s always been extremely physical, probably the most physical (defensive back),” Leach said. “And just as he’s refined his skills he’s gotten better and better.”
Coen back at practice
Sam linebacker Cyrus Coen was limited in practice the week before the Rutgers game and he did not play against the Scarlet Knights. His backup, Mitch Peterson, performed admirably, collecting a career-high 16 tackles, partially due to the fact that the visitors kept running the ball at him.
But Coen looked like his old self at practice on Monday, forcing a fumble, tipping a pass and making a number of tackles while practicing with the starting unit.
“He’s really improved over the last year. He’s always kind of a tough, hard-nosed guy but he’s had a great camp, had a great camp,” Leach said. “The biggest place he improved is he’s gotten to a place where he plays pass coverage really well.”