Even when progressing through multiple reads, Connor showed poise and was effective while in the pocket. But on the run, he consistently threw across his body and had poor fundamentals.
The Cougars are not yet good enough to withstand the mistakes and missed opportunities that stem from when Connor is on the run. Football is a team game and every unit is critical to the broader success, but if the play at quarterback isn't steady, even a solid team is going to struggle getting to a winning record.
So, after watching his uneven work at Auburn, time to toss Connor aside and give Austin Apodaca a shot, right?
I think very highly of Connor and believe he can be a game changer for this program.
As demonstrated the first time he touched the field on Saturday, and for much of the time after that, he flat out made plays. He has outstanding physical tools and what appears to be a fearless attitude. What he absolutely must get his arms around is the idea of throwing a ball away, or running out of bounds, if there's not a play to be had with a reasonable chance of success. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Just throw the ball away.
CF.C'S MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK AS A HOUSTON TEXAN IN 2008.
Believe me, it's an acquired taste. It's not a natural thing for a quarterback to do – to purposely waste a down. For a guy with Connor's mentality, it's actually not the wasting of a down that's bugging him, it's the wasting of an opportunity. QBs are conditioned to make things happen. Throwing a ball out of bounds is anathema to that idea.
As quarterbacks, we all screw up. Even the very best. Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf, Jason Gesser, everyone. The key is to avoid mistakes that seriously affect the outcome of the game.
And that brings us to game management.
A major key to this season will be Connor's ability to limit mistakes early in the game and keep the Cougs within striking distance late into the second half. At that point the combination of his natural physical abilities and aggressive nature will allow him to make a positive, game-changing play.
If the Cougs are consistently three or four scores behind their opponent going into the second half, he will feel like he needs to press and force throws. This undoubtedly will create some big plays, but also big turnovers, which is not a recipe for success.
Connor's arm, athleticism and temperament can be a powerful combination as long as he remains disciplined. Much of this comes from maturity and playing experience – and I can tell you flat out that when Connor looks at the Auburn game film he's going mature immensely. He was that close to leading to the Cougs to a win in an SEC stadium. The difference could have been a couple of passes that were thrown into the stands or perhaps not thrown at all.
But there's more. The development process also can be cultivated by the offensive coaching staff in how they structure patterns and reads.
If Connor is asked to read fewer defenders or only work half of the field, then it will simplify his thought process and allow him to do what he does best: make plays. In addition, if Connor continues to mature and realize the advantage of taking short/intermediate throws on first down, he will have much more success. With the athletes WSU has at the wide receiver position, whoever is playing quarterback simply needs to get the ball in their hands accurately. Big plays present themselves a handful of times throughout the game, but not when you try to force them. That is where the patience and discipline come into play.
From a game-plan perspective, the coaches did an excellent job at Auburn with a simple, yet effective scheme that mixed the running game, screens and quick passing.
Connor managed the game incredibly well for much of the first three quarters, keeping the Cougs within a single possession all game. His only glaring mistake over this time came at the end of the first quarter when he threw late and across his body while scrambling. The first interception off a tip ball was more bad luck and bad timing with Brett Bartalone.
However, late in the third quarter and most of the fourth, Connor was a different player. He seemed to press, consistently passing on shorter routes for throws downfield that were incomplete or nearly intercepted. The most fatal example came late in the fourth quarter when the Cougs were knocking on the door.
Mike Leach called a play that had been successful for the offense throughout the game. Out of a trips set (3 receivers to one side, 1 receiver to the other) he sent the single receiver and the inside receiver to the trips side on shallow crossing routes. The outside receiver to the trips side ran a post, while the slot ran a wheel route up the sideline. Instead of taking the easy completion in front of him on the crosser, Halliday opted to throw the wheel into double coverage leading to the interception.
In that situation, it is critical that a quarterback take the open throw on first down and not get greedy. The quality decision making and big plays that Connor made in the first three quarters meant nothing simply because he could not remain disciplined late in the game.
The loss against Auburn cannot be put solely on Connor's shoulders. But with the ball in his hands every play, he must be more consistent for the Cougs to win close ball games.
A FEW OTHER OBSERVATIONS FROM SATURDAY:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alex Brink was the starting quarterback at Washington State from 2004-2007. He threw for more yards and touchdowns than anyone in school history and ranked third on the Pac-10's all-time passing yards list when his career concluded. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Houston Texans in 2008 and spent a season on their practice squad. He later played three years in the Canadian Football League with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from 2010-2012. Brink is currently the head quarterbacks coach for the Barton Football Academy based in Portland. He can be found on twitter at @AlexBrink10.