Charting Connor Halliday's path to success

BILL CONNELLY has never seen Washington State's Connor Halliday play in person. And most of his observations about the rising junior quarterback come not from film review but through the crunching of numbers. Yet his conclusions after digesting 185 of Halliday's passes in five games last season are unequivocal.

"He forced balls downfield instead of taking what was given to him," says Connelly, an advanced stats expert who cut his teeth at Football Outsiders before joining SB Nation a couple of years ago as part of that network's move to upgrade its content.

"On any given play in the Mike Leach offense, a pass can be completed for four, six, seven yards," says Connelly, who is based in Missouri and spent a ton of time dissecting Texas Tech's offense under Leach. "Teams drop a lot of players into coverage against Leach, so you have to take those free yards when they're given. Halliday didn't do that and it's why he didn't overtake (Jeff) Tuel."

Connelly's data, taken from a sample of seven Cougar games last season, shows that 28 percent of all Tuel pass attempts were in the 5-to-9-yard distribution segment while 18 percent of Halliday's were.

The accuracy rate of the two QBs in the various segment lengths is also illuminating.

In the games that Connelly and colleague Mike Nixon (the former Arizona State linebacker) digested, Halliday completed just 30 percent of throws between 10 and 14 yards vs. Tuel's 60 percent. On attempts of zero-to-four yards, Halliday was at 60 percent to Tuel's 72.5 percent. The two were closer on attempts of five-to-nine yards, but still notably different: Halliday at 57 percent and Tuel at 65 percent.

Granted, Connelly says, this is just a sample size. But given the number of pass attempts covered, there's a clear trend line.

"With Tuel and Halliday, it was steady and lower upside vs. more aggressive and a higher ceiling," Connelly says. "Halliday didn't prove himself. We look at the frequency of passes at different lengths and at the completion rate within those lengths, and on shorter passes, Tuel was much better, which is important when you look at what defenses try to do against the Air Raid."

In all, Connelly and Nixon looked at the Cougars against BYU, EWU, UNLV, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford and Utah. Of those, Halliday was the primary quarterback in three of them (UNLV, Colorado and Oregon). He saw limited action in two others (EWU and Utah) and didn't throw a pass in either the BYU or Stanford games.

His stat line in the games he played was 100-for-185, six interceptions, nine TDs and 1,230 yards.

"In the 15-to-25-yard range, Halliday was average, in the 42-to-46 (completion percentage) area of most quarterbacks at this level, but inside 15 yards he was inaccurate … he was more likely to go downfield (than Tuel) but he wasn't particularly successful there either."

The recipe for Halliday stepping up his game in 2013 seems straight forward, says Connelly.

He needs to take what defenses give him.

"He was all over the map (last season). With genuine improvement I thought he would pass Tuel, because his upside is higher. He needs to take advantage of what defenses are letting him have."

All of Connelly's quarterback charting from last season can be found HERE. It includes data on 43 quarterbacks from around the nation.

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • Connelly said he finds Leach's assistant coaches on offense "really, really interesting, and even more so now with (David) Yost. He's known as a free thinker … he's a perfect fit."

  • Connelly said one of the most glaring takeaways from watching Cougar game film last season was the number of times opposing defenses rushed only two players due to WSU's lack of a ground attack. It happened so often that he dubbed it "hilarious."

  • Many of the sacks the Cougars surrendered in the game film he watched game from standard four-man rushes, not blitzes, Connelly said. He also said Halliday was slow to dump the ball off. Halliday was sacked 12 times in the five games he played in Connelly's analysis.

  • Connelly said he initially started charting Cougar passes with the intent of doing a comparison between Leach's version of the Air Raid and the brand his protégé, Dana Holgorsen, operates at West Virginia. He said he decided not to pursue the idea because it became clear early in the season that WSU's talent didn't match well with West Virginia's, thus making an apples-to-apples comparison impossible.

    IN 2012 HALLIDAY COMPLETED 52.1 PERCENT OF HIS 290 PASSES.

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