The Washington State cougars do not know what a running back is. Mike Leach has never spoken those words. He doesn't need to know what a running back is. As a matter of fact, the Cougars haven't had a 100-yard rusher in a single game since James Montgomery ran for 116 yards in 2010. Mike Leach doesn't know what a running back is because he has Connor Halliday. The man with the robotic arm that can throw 100 passes a night and still come back for more, despite his team always either getting their butts whipped, or just plain Cougin' it.
The Ducks travel to tropical Pullman this weekend for a matchup with the Washington State Cougars to open Pac-12 play. Oregon has faced some opponents so far that rely more on their running backs, but that simply won't be the case this weekend against the Cougars. Let's take a look at the offense Oregon will face on Saturday.
Connor Halliday isn't just a part of the Washington State offense, he IS the Washington State offense. In the most recent Breaking Madden, Jon Bois puts Tony Romo through "Quarterback Hell," in which Romo is "blessed with the greatest arm in the world, and it's wasted on a group of receivers who aren't worth a damn." That is the life of Connor Halliday.
Halliday leads the nation in passing yards (1,465), passing yards per-game (488.3), completions per-game (39.7) and passing touchdowns (12). Mark Helfrich called those "PlayStation numbers." If an NCAA football video game still existed, Halliday might actually be fun to use in the game before realizing that you're stuck with the rest of the Washington State football team.
Last weekend against Portland State, Halliday threw for 544 yards along with six touchdowns and two interceptions. I wish I could tell you that was the only time in the first three games Halliday has thrown for over 500 yards, but I'd be lying. In Washington State's season opener, Halliday threw for 532 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. And you know what happened that game? They lost to Rutgers. Connor Halliday threw for 532 yards and five touchdowns AND HE STILL LOST.
In last year's game against Oregon, Halliday threw the ball 89 times. By the end, his arm needed to be surgically reattached on the sidelines after each drive. Halliday threw for 557 yards and four touchdowns, but also threw four interceptions. Former Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was so outraged about the 89 pass attempts, he went as far as calling Mike Leach "low class." Yes, Nick. Passing the ball when you're trailing in a football game is certainly "low class."
Halliday epitomizes "Quarterback Hell." He could throw for 6,000 yards this year and it wouldn't make a difference in the world because he plays for Washington State.
Contrary to popular belief, the Cougars do have a running back. He isn't very useful, but he's back there. His name is Jamal Morrow and he has 23 carries for 87 yards and no touchdowns through the first three games of the year. His 38 yards on 10 carries last week against Portland State were both season highs thus far for Morrow. Gerard Wicks is also back there with 16 carries for 60 yards. As you can tell, there's really not much more to discuss here, so we're just going to move right along.
Since Connor Halliday hasn't figured out how to throw the ball to himself yet, his PlayStation numbers are due in part to his wide receivers. Washington State's leading receiver thus far in 2014 is Isiah Meyers who has 26 catches for 423 yards and five touchdowns. Meyers is averaging 141 yards per game. In last week's win over Portland State, Meyers made 11 catches for 227 yards and three touchdowns. His 227 receiving yards were the sixth-most in school history. He's an explosive guy who is sure to give Oregon's secondary a few headaches on Saturday.
Vince Mayle has also had a good start to the 2014 season with 25 catches for 245 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 81.7 yards per game. In the season opener against Rutgers, Mayle hauled in 12 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.
The Cougars also have a couple of promsing young receivers in River Cracraft and Robert Lewis. Against Rutgers, Cracraft made eight catches for 83 yards while Lewis hauled in eight passes against Nevada.
In total, 12 Washington State receivers have made at least one catch this year, tallying up for 1551 receiving yards and 13 of the Cougars' 14 touchdowns this year.
Who to Watch For
Connor Halliday. Seriously, did you think this would be anyone else? Without Halliday, Mike Leach would most likely need to head to a campus flag football game to pluck his next quarterback. Aside from the obvious answer of Halliday here, I'm curious to see how Isiah Meyers follows up his 227-yard day from last weekend. If the Cougars have even a sliver of hope of upsetting Oregon, Meyers will need to mimic that performance again this weekend.
Oregon's secondary can be beat. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu can't do it all by himself. This year, the Ducks are giving up 275 yards per game, ranked 98th in the nation. Brian Anderson at Coug Center has a great in-depth piece complete with GIFs for a full breakdown on exactly how this can happen.
Connor Halliday will most likely throw for at least 400 yards against the Ducks. The real question is if Washington State's defense can hold the Ducks just enough to give Halliday and the Cougars a fighting chance.