COUNTDOWN TO 2013: Cougars QB Preview

PULLMAN – For Mike Leach's Air Raid offense to prosper, the quarterback must do certain things and do them consistently. Indeed, at the least, the QB needs to manage the game and find the stress points. Fourth-year junior Connor Halliday and second-year freshman Austin Apodaca will both, says Leach, have the opportunity to take the reins and run in fall camp, but who will emerge as No. 1?

The Cougar offense struggled last year, there's no denying that. WSU at times looked more the part of a flight controller from the movie Airplane rather than that of an accomplished pilot. To be frank, it all starts with the quarterback.

Sure, pundits and critics will argue the offensive line was the Cougs' downfall but consider looking at it from a different angle -- because this number doesn't lie:

In 2012, Connor Halliday completed a bleak 52.2 percent of his passes, good for 108th out of 116 quarterbacks with at least 160 pass attempts on the year. That percentage was also good for last in the Pac-12.

Yes, he was under duress at times but that doesn't account for all of that 52.2 percent completion percentage. This area, among all else, is what Halliday needs to improve upon if the Air Raid is to truly take flight in '13.

From 2003-2007, Texas Tech quarterbacks under Leach ranked in the top ten for completion percentage every single season. The yards, and more importantly the touchdowns, followed.

Granted, it can be argued that's the gold standard for quarterback play, and an unreasonable expectation for Halliday. But it can certainly be used as a means for comparison -- and it's not that unreasonable a goal.

Bottom line, that number shows that Halliday must undoubtedly work on his consistency and reads if he expects to lead Wazzu to any sort of promised land this season.

HALLIDAY HAS THE physical tools, and more than likely the offensive weapons, to cash in on a playbook designed for a guy with his makeup.

Equipped with a strong arm and a (sometimes good, sometimes bad) reckless mentality, Halliday could easily post a 30-35 TD season.

It all depends on whether or not he can make the smart decisions under adverse circumstances, and exhibit the leadership skills needed.

So far, for my money, the latter won't be a problem.

Halliday's fire and competitive nature have been well-documented in CF.C fall camp and spring ball reports. His leadership skills in my view are among the best on the team. Long gone are the days of a quiet Halliday going out there slingin' the pigskin around to his targets -- instead a more mature, confident QB is out there on the gridiron.

HIS DECISION-MAKING skills are still a work in progress, the spring game certainly showed that, but the Spokane native has just as certainly made strides.

This spring, overall, Halliday would regularly throw the ball away if the play wasn't there. Living to see another down is the name of the game, and most signs point to Halliday grasping that concept more and more as he approaches his redshirt junior season.

ALL THAT SAID, it isn't out of the realm of possibility another QB starts in Week 1 or gets his shot at some point during the year. Yep, Austin Apodaca just might steal the show come fall camp.

The second-year freshman this spring exhibited the athleticism and savvy needed to play the quarterback position though some of his tools, including decision-making, are still in the developmental stages.

Apodaca's biggest selling-point has been his ability to run and extend plays with his feet.

While he may not have the Halliday's arm, Leach doesn't give much of a damn when it comes to arm strength. More important, among several other things, is Apodaca's ability to escape the pocket and find a scrambling receiver. And that may give him an edge if Halliday can't lock down the job in camp and over the course of the season.

The Pac-12, and throughout the FBS for that matter, have seen guys bred from the same mold as Apodaca succeed in recent years, and while Halliday looks to be the favorite from this chair, it's not out of the question Leach doesn't see it quite that way.

Put another way, come the first week of August, Halliday will get first crack at the job, but don't sleep on Apodaca. If his offseason was chock full of studying and preparation, Cougar Nation may be in store for a full-scale quarterback battle royale.

The Best of the Rest
Freshman Tyler Bruggman comes in with all the hoopla and anticipation a guy could ever want. Being the highest rated quarterback to come to the Palouse in many a year, expectations for Bruggman's Cougar career are higher than most.

While it's doubtful Bruggman will see the field in 2013, the Cougs will still be in search of a third-string quarterback and with an exceptional fall camp, Bruggman could at least conceivably be the guy.

Leach has made it known he would prefer to redshirt the Arizona product but at the same time, the Cougars can't go into the season with just two situated quarterbacks in the fold.

Fellow freshman Luke Falk is a walk on but he's my personal pick to grab the third-string job this season and make waves at practice.

The strong-armed Utah product held offers from Florida State, Idaho and Cornell (academic scholarship) at various points during his recruitment but ultimately chose the Cougs for a chance to play in Leach's system.

Because Leach probably won't want to burn Bruggman's redshirt, expect Falk to get a good look during fall camp. Falk put up gaudy numbers in high school, and could be a good fit in the Air Raid.

Another freshman, Bellevue product Isaac Dotson figures to get a crack at the quarterback position this August, though most fans expect him to eventually transition to safety or linebacker.

Dotson is another multi-dimensional threat that can spread the field with his arm and legs. At a stout 6-3, 220 pounds, Dotson has the body to play the position. Only time with tell if he has the tools.

A second walk-on in the fold, and a mind-boggling fourth true freshman, Auburn product Domenic Rockey comes to WSU with nothing to lose.

Electing to walk on at Washington State in late March, Rockey will certainly have his work cut out for him. He's a long, lean quarterback who has the chance to fill-in a little bit after a year in the weight room, and should benefit from the competition this season with lots of young arms out on the Palouse.

THE COUGS MAY well live and die by their quarterback and offensive line in 2013. Halliday has shown signs of growth this spring, and the Cougs will need to see that growth continue if WSU hopes to go bowling for the first time since 2003.

And if there remain too many hiccups, as Leach showed last year with Jeff Tuel and Halliday, he won't hesitate to plug someone else in under center.

Cougfan Top Stories