Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – Congratulations to Washington State
quarterback Connor Halliday after he recently inserted himself into the NCAA
On Oct. 4 against Pac-12 Conference foe California, a team which was 3-1
entering the meeting, Halliday lit up the sky with a staggering 70 pass
attempts, of which 49 landed in friendly hands. Halliday tossed a total of six
touchdowns in a game that saw 1,261 yards through the air alone, resulting in
a total of 11 TDs, no interceptions and just a single sack between he and Cal
quarterback Jared Goff.
Washington State controlled the action for close to 36 minutes in front of the
hometown crowd and amassed 812 yards of total offense on 95 snaps, and yet the
team came up short in a 60-59 final.
The game took more than four hours and the Cougars were flagged 12 times for a
loss of 121 yards, but still the squad should have come away with the victory
when you consider Halliday threw for 734 yards to set the NCAA’s FBS passing
yardage record, exceeding the previous mark of 716 set by Houston’s David
Klingler in 1990.
Having taken almost every single snap for the Cougars to this point, Halliday
is averaging just over 60 pass attempts per contest, completing 67.8 percent,
for an incredible 508.7 ypg and a total of 26 touchdowns. Because of his
prolific efforts during the first half of the campaign, Halliday has an
efficiency rating of 156.69, thanks in part to having thrown only seven
interceptions in 369 chances.
Halliday, who owns three of the top six single-game passing efforts here in
2014, leads the nation in yards per game by more than 70 ypg. With 3,052
passing yards heading into this week’s action, the quarterback is more than
800 yards ahead of his closest competition, but the team as a whole is scoring
only 38.0 ppg (27th nationally) and has a record of only 2-4. Of the two
victories for WSU, one was a blowout versus FCS foe Portland State (59-21) and
the other just a single-point triumph over conference rival Utah (28-27).
In his 19 games as Washington State’s gunslinger, Halliday has thrown for more
than 7,600 yards and 60 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Halliday and his teammates found out all too well that just
because they are cogs in a historic offensive machine, by no means does that
imply that tallies will be lining up in the win column.
When asked about his performance against Cal, Halliday down-played the effort
because it failed to bring about a victory.
“It really doesn’t mean too much … it’ll be fun to look back on it when I’m
30 years old.”
Mike Leach, the coach known for his swashbuckling ways and aggressive passing
attacks, has been refining his approach ever since he signed on as an
offensive coordinator with Iowa Wesleyan a quarter century ago. He has made
stops at Valdosta State, Kentucky and Oklahoma, all as an OC, before being
handed the reins at Texas Tech in 2000.
After grooming former No. 1 NFL Draft pick Tim Couch with the Kentucky
Wildcats, and also having a hand in creating the hype surrounding Oklahoma
quarterback Josh Heupel during his one and only season in Norman, Leach
embarked on a decade of action with Texas Tech in the highly competitive Big
Leach was 84-43 overall with the Red Raiders, but just 47-33 in conference. He
ended up the top of the division standings only once during his decade in
Lubbock, making it to the Cotton Bowl following the 2008 campaign, although
Tech ended up bowing to Ole Miss in that contest, 47-34.
When you have a scheme that is nicknamed the “Air Raid Offense”, clearly the
competition is standing up and taking notice. But even with all the attention
and record-setting efforts, Leach and his teams haven’t won much of anything
of any real significance. The gimmicky approach makes for great headlines and
highlight reels and is useful fodder for sports trivia nights at the local
pub, but what has Leach ever really done beyond filling up a stat sheet?
Sure, the action is frantic and can be fantastic all at the same time, but at
the end of a season, or a college career, the players he has commanded are
little more than a headline/footnote in record books, and have little hope of
cultivating a meaningful professional career.
Don’t get me wrong, it has to be thrilling for Heupel, Couch, Kliff Kingsbury,
B.J. Symons and Graham Harrell to know that they are being mentioned in the
same breath as some of the most accomplished college passers to ever take a
snap, but once that university uniform has been tossed in the laundry for the
final time, what happens to those signal callers who have become synonymous
with Leach’s exploits?
Couch left Kentucky after his junior year because his draft stock was so high,
the 1998 SEC Player of the Year being taken with the first overall pick by the
Cleveland Browns. Ironically, Couch took over the Browns from another seminal
college passer, Ty Detmer, but after five years in the league ended up with
more interceptions (67) than passing TDs (64) and was labeled by some as a
Heupel, a consensus All-American, the AP Player of the Year and the Walter
Camp Award winner in 2000, led Oklahoma to the BCS National Championship with
a 13-2 victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. The Heisman Trophy
runner-up that year Heupel, who also had stops at Weber State and Snow College
before arriving at Oklahoma, attempted to sign on with the Miami Dolphins as a
sixth-round draft pick in 2001, but he failed to make the team.
Now the head coach at his alma mater, Kliff Kingsbury was another passing
prodigy for Leach at Tech from the early days, establishing 39 school records,
12 Big 12 Conference records and seven FBS marks before leaving campus.
Kingsbury was the poster child for journeymen football players as he made
stops at New England, New Orleans, and with the New York Jets all in the NFL,
before heading to the Cologne Centurions of the ill-fated NFL Europe, and
finally the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
Aside from becoming the only Big 12 coach to begin his career with seven
straight wins, Kingsbury had little to celebrate when it came to his
professional exploits on the field, regardless of the country in which they
Graham Harrell sat behind Cody Hodges for a season before getting his chance
to become the latest pet passing project for Leach in 2006. In that, his
sophomore season, Harrell threw for 4,555 yards, the most by any second-year
performer in the Big 12, but that was met with a 7-5 overall record and an
invitation to the 2006 Insight Bowl versus Minnesota.
Harrell locked up the Sammy Baugh Trophy, which recognizes the nation’s top
passer, as a junior and a year later he was fourth in the Heisman voting and
was named the winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. But after being
the first NCAA player to have multiple 5,000-yard passing campaigns, the Texas
native went undrafted and wound up signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders
of the CFL.
The Green Bay Packers eventually took a chance with Harrell in 2010, being
signed in May, released in September and re-signed a day later to the practice
squad. The prodigious college passer was also on the New York Jets roster for
a few days in 2013 but was again released without fanfare.
In April of this year, Harrell was reunited with Leach on the WSU coaching
And then there’s Symons, the NCAA’s single-season record holder for passing
yards (5,833) which he set with the Red Raiders in 2003. Like Harrell and
Kingsbury, Symons also took home the Baugh Trophy. Stemming from just the 2003
season, Symons set 11 individual FBS records, ranging from the most games with
at least 400 passing yards (11), most passes attempted in a season (719), and
total yards (5,976).
Symons was drafted by Houston in the seventh round of the 2004 draft before
heading to the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe. The quarterback bounced back to
the Chicago Bears for spell and then headed to Europe yet again with the
Berlin Thunder in 2006. A year later, he was back on American soil with the
Tampa Bay Storm of the AFL, but was released from his contract in 2009 before
the team went bankrupt. The last known location of Symons was somewhere in the
Lone Star State, involved in investment banking.
Sounds like Halliday has the right perspective on his recent achievement, but
hopefully he’ll be able to somehow rise above the disappointing outcomes of