By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — If his quarterback is presented with a throw that even Mike Leach could make, the Washington State head coach wants the player to go ahead and take it.
That’s the primary point of emphasis for sophomore quarterback Connor Halliday this week — don’t try to do too much, as he did at times in Saturday’s 51-26 loss to Oregon.
“I’ve always been able, even if my first read isn’t open, to throw a guy open,” Halliday said Monday. “That works out some of the time, but there’s a better possibility of completing a ball throwing to a guy who’s for sure open, even if that’s 10 yards shorter or 15 yards shorter, whatever that is.”
As Leach said, Halliday needs to recognize that even a 5-yard gain is “a hell of a play.”
“This is what they’re giving us and this is what I have and we need to take it,” Leach said, relaying the mindset he’d like to see from Halliday. “I always tell him the more plays that you have out there that I could have done myself, the easier it is. It’s pretty high percentage and it’s pretty simple.
“The thing is, you can’t always get the ones I can throw, but where you can, you need to take advantage of them. Of course, we’ll go back there and there’ll be real tight coverage and he’ll go in there and hit some guy in the face and maybe we catch it, maybe we don’t, but it’ll be a heck of a play and he’ll have outexecuted the defense, too. But can you do that 10 times in a row?”
Halliday completed 33-of-60 passes for 348 yards on Saturday before exiting in the fourth quarter, the result of a hard hit taken after throwing a pass. Jeff Tuel completed 4-of-4 passes in his place, including a 25-yard scoring toss to Marquess Wilson.
Halliday said he’s a little sore, but that his bumps and bruises are “nothing a little ice can’t help.”
Leach said Halliday will “probably” be the team’s starter against Oregon State this week, which means he’s likely to continue taking the bulk of the reps in practice.
That could help with Leach’s aforementioned desire to see Halliday settle for what the defense is giving him.
“It definitely helps accelerate it especially with all the reps I get in practice now,” Halliday said. “I take the first-team reps, so that’s a lot more than the backup’s role, so these last couple weeks have been great in my growing as a quarterback.”
After allowing Oregon to convert 7 of its 14 third-down attempts, the Cougars fell into a tie for 106th in the nation in that category, allowing opponents to convert 49.4 percent of their attempts this season.
The Ducks used an 18-play drive to open the third quarter and take a commanding 30-19 lead, converting three third-downs along the way.
“It’s not where we want it to be, that’s for sure,” said WSU defensive tackle Steven Hoffart. “That just comes down to leaders making plays and people stepping up and wanting to make a big play.”
Oregon State, WSU’s next opponent, ranks second in the country in third-down conversion defense at 20.5 percent.
Leach said there’s been no status change for offensive lineman Dan Spitz, who has practiced just one day in the last three weeks and hasn’t played since the Eastern Washington game. Spitz remains out with what Leach termed as personal matters. … OSU is a 14.5-point favorite over WSU. The unbeaten Beavers have been underdogs in each of their first three games. … Halliday, who took some flak for saying he’d rather play home games at Martin Stadium than in Seattle, said he didn’t mean to be critical of the Seattle game tradition. … WSU’s Oct. 13 home game against California will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and will air on the Pac-12 Networks.