This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
When he signed his letter of intent, quarterback Connor Halliday said he wanted to help lead the Washington State Cougars back to their "winning ways" of old.
So this would probably have to qualify as a good start.
The redshirt freshman that the Utah Utes will face in the wintry chill at Martin Stadium in Pullman on Saturday threw for 474 yards and four touchdowns in his first extended action last week including an 85-yard touchdown on his first play to help ignite an upset over Arizona State.
The victory changed the whole outlook around a team that had been taking on water during a five-game losing streak, to the extent that fourth-year coach Paul Wulff was considered in jeopardy of losing his job.
But stunning a team that many viewed just a month ago as all but certain to reach the inaugural Pac-12 Conference championship game has put the 4-6 Cougars who won just five games in the last three seasons, combined in the unlikely position to reach a bowl game if they beat the Utes and then the rival Washington Huskies.
"We haven't talked much about it," Halliday said. "I know it's in everybody's back of their mind. But it hasn't been very vocal. If we don't take care of business this week, it's over. So we have to get this win, then worry about the next one."
It's just one game, but Halliday has been a revelation.
A star quarterback at Ferris High School in Spokane that's prime Cougar territory he threw for more yards in a victory than any player in school history, and WSU has a pretty illustrious quarterback lineage that includes Mark Rypien, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf and Jack Thompson.
Only Alex Brink had thrown for more yards in a game for the Cougs, but his 531 came in a loss to Oregon State in 1995.
"He was magnificent," Arizona interim coach Tim Kish said. "He just looked so poised in the pocket."
That's something Halliday always has had, Wulff said. It's just the physical maturity and game experience that has been lacking. Halliday is skinny 6-foot-4 and 179 pounds and played only briefly in the first two games of the season, blowouts of Idaho State and UNLV.
He's also the third quarterback of the season for the Cougars, who lost junior starter Jeff Tuel to a broken collarbone in the season opener and other shoulder and calf injuries later in the season. Then, they grew discouraged that senior replacement Marshall Loebbestael couldn't give them everything they needed.
So after a loss to Cal two weeks ago, the coaching staff decided to give Halliday a shot against the Sun Devils.
The plan was for Halliday to play the third series of the game, no matter what. But then Halliday threw his long touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Marquess Wilson.
Halliday played the rest of the 37-27 victory, and became the talk of the town perhaps even the player who saves Wulff's job and earns a battle with Tuel for the starting spot next spring. The coach named him the starter against the Utes, who have allowed just 35 points in the last three games and lead the league in defense.
Both coach and player heaped praise on the Utes, though Halliday said he can't be afraid of the challenges he faces.
"If you're going to be playing college football at the Pac-12 level, you have to have a confidence in yourself to believe if you get thrown out there you're going to make things happen," he said.
"If you don't have that confidence, I don't think you'd be successful at this level."
Halliday is also the perfect illustration of the team Wulff is trying to build, the coach said, after recently saying that the Cougars were the worst Division I team in the county "by a long, long ways" when he inherited them four years ago.
Utah at Wash. St.
P Saturday, 3 p.m.
TV • KJZZ
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday threw for the second-most yards in school history last week:
Year Player Opponent Yards TD Result
2005 Alex Brink Oregon State 531 1 L, 44-33
2011 Connor Halliday Arizona State 494 4 W, 37-27
1992 Drew Bledsoe Utah* 476 2 W, 31-28
2007 Alex Brink San Diego State 469 5 W, 45-17
2007 Alex Brink Stanford 449 1 W, 33-17