Utah football: Utes plan to force Connor Halliday into mistakes
By Lya Wodraska
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Nov 21 2013 10:44AM
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday’s season has mirrored his team’s year.
The junior has had some brilliant moments, but he has had some meltdowns, too.
The Utes hope they can coax him into another meltdown when the teams meet in Pullman at 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday.
Halliday ranks near the top of the national rankings in several passing categories. He is No. 4 with 341.7 yards passing a game, ninth in total offense with 332 yards a game and third in completions per game, averaging 34.1.
Halliday has thrown for 22 touchdowns, but he has tossed 19 interceptions, too.
Halliday threw a combined seven interceptions against Oregon State and Oregon, performances that might sound familiar after Travis Wilson’ turnover struggles.
The Utes smell blood.
Utah has just two interceptions this season, which coach Kyle Whittingham described as "ridiculous." He almost is demanding the Utes get some takeaways Saturday.
"We’ve had so many opportunities to intercept the football," Whittingham said. "We have to convert on some of those. Time is running out."
The Utes have gotten to Halliday before, especially in 2011 when he threw two interceptions in Utah’s 30-27 win. Coleman Petersen’s game-winning 38-yard field goal was set up by Mo Lee’s interception.
Halliday lost the starting role to Jeff Tuel last year and made just a brief appearance in Utah’s 49-6 win.
He has been planted firmly as the Cougars’ starter this season but hasn’t shaken the interception problems.
Halliday got rattled against Oregon State, throwing three second-half interceptions that turned a 24-24 tie into a 52-24 Oregon State win.
Halliday set an NCAA record for attempts when he was 58 of 89 for 557 yards and four touchdowns against Oregon. Unfortunately for him, he also threw four picks that helped the Ducks take a 62-38 win.
While his prolific passing might make some eyes pop, the Utes see opportunities.
"He is good and he throws the ball a lot," linebacker Jacoby Hale said. "But we need to get pressure on him and mess with their minds a bit."
Utah leads the nation with 36 sacks, while Halliday has been sacked 21 times.
"He is a very good quarterback, and on film he looks elusive," defensive lineman Tenny Palepoi said. "But that is our job — get to the quarterback."
However, Whittingham said the Utes don’t necessarily need sacks. They just need Halliday to get rattled with the Utes creating general mayhem.
"We need a pass rush, get our hands on the ball at the line of scrimmage or get knockdowns," Whittingham said. "More times than not, you don’t get there for sacks, but you can still be disruptive with the pass rush and deflect some balls and that type of thing."