Halliday & Co. get logjammed by Cardinal D

CONNOR HALLIDAY SAT on the grass, a slightly dazed look on his face as one of his offensive linemen approached, holding out a hand to help him up after yet another three-and-out blown opportunity. The quarterback, who in less than week went from setting a Football Bowl Subdivision record to being battered and beleaguered by the second-best defense in the nation, angrily shrugged it off.

It was hard to blame him.

After hanging in with No. 25 Stanford in the first half, and trailing by just a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, the Cougars flat out ran out of energy, out of plays – and out of hope – against a defense that has now held opponents under 30 points in a national-best 20 straight games. The second-best streak is 12.

The old adage asks: How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm?

Well, if you’re the Stanford Cardinal, you methodically pound the hell out of a prized quarterback until the only thing he wants to throw is his suitcase into the overhead bin on a flight back to Pullman – and emerge with a 34-17 win, their seventh in a row against the Cougars.

Coach Mike Leach said that he knew it wouldn’t be easy to win on The Farm.

“I don’t think Connor got into a true rhythm the whole day, and we battled it,” he said in a postgame radio interview from Palo Alto. “We knew it was going to be tough going in.”

Tough – but to the point where Halliday could barely walk by the end of the night?

THE SENIOR WAS sacked four times, but that doesn’t begin to illustrate what he endured as he was clobbered on series after series, and at times, seemed to literally be running for his life.

From the first snap, a menacing Cardinal defense put Halliday in a position where he couldn’t afford to sit back and read the field and had to get the ball out of his hands as fast as possible.

Making matters worse, a youthful, inexperienced offensive line was way overmatched by their veteran, physical counterparts and unable to protect Halliday.

The barrage of hits Halliday took – including one after releasing the ball on his first series of the night – forced Leach to gamble on the offense on fourth down. Both times in the first quarter paid off, though, as the Cougars picked up the necessary yards for first downs.

Halliday threw for a pair of touchdowns, a 9-yard pass to Vince Mayle in the first quarter, and a 3-yard pass to River Cracraft early in the fourth. Cracraft set a Washington State single-game record with 14 receptions and also tallied his fifth career 100-yard game.

The latter touchdown aptly displayed the challenges Halliday faced all night -- on fourth-and-goal, he rolled to his right and lofted a pass across his body to Cracraft, who sneaked behind a pair of defenders to strike in the end zone.

It was ill-advised at worst and genius at best.

But it was hardly the performance expected from a quarterback now holding the Football Bowl Subdivision record for passing yards.

Stanford held Halliday to 42-for-69 passing for 292 yards and two touchdowns, forced an interception and had four sacks.

STILL, THE COUGARS didn’t truly come unglued until the fourth quarter. In fact, pulling out an upset seemed outright realistic until the final eight minutes ticked by.

With the Cardinal facing third-and-1 on the Washington State 34, freshman Daniel Ekuale committed a personal foul by essentially throwing Kevin Hogan to the ground. That gave Stanford a free first down, and they capitalized on it, steadily moving down the field to kick a 34-yard field goal and make it a two-score game.

Trailing 27-17 with just under five minutes left, the Cougars set to work climbing out of a hole dug by a punt downed at their own 5 yard-line. A 14-yard completion from Halliday to Cracraft was negated by a holding penalty that backed them up to the 23.

On the ensuing play, Halliday was sacked by A.J. Tarpley for a loss of 13 yards. His next two passes were incomplete, and the Cougars were forced to punt again, and basically shanked the ball to give Stanford possession at the Washington State 44.

Leach elected to wait to use two of his three timeouts once Stanford regained possession, which essentially gave its offense the ability to just on keep running plays.

And when the Cougars got the ball back one last time, things descended into flat-out ugly as they tallied consecutive false-start penalties and then turned over the ball on their own 21.

Game over. Season over?

THE COUGARS HAVE five games left, and after near-misses against Oregon and California – and managing to put up 17 points on a dominant Stanford defense – it isn’t unreasonable to assume that they can beat at least one of their remaining opponents.

“We’re capable of more, and we’re better than we did,” Leach said. “Unless we start pushing that direction and realizing that … We can’t sit and accept all this stuff: ‘Well, Stanford’s really tough’, ‘You did the best you could’. Well, yeah, yeah, yeah.

“We can’t accept that. We have to push past that and expect more of ourselves.”

He’s right – but it won’t change the outcome of this night on The Farm, just another what-if on what is becoming way too long a list.

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