HALLIDAY'S LINE GAVE HIM TIME
THE BIG STORY WASN’T that Connor Halliday attempted a Football Bowl Subdivision-record 89 passes, it was what the Cougar o-line did during that monumental number of attempts. That’s the viewpoint of one coach, and he had plenty more to say about WSU-Oregon and on the Cougars as a whole.
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Jim Walden says the stat book may show that Connor Halliday was sacked four times hit on three other occasions, and that there were also a good number of hurries in there too. But he says the numbers don’t give an accurate picture of how the Cougar offensive line performed.
"Think about how many plays they had to protect him, my goodness,” said Walden. “Those starters out there ( LT Gunnar Eklund, LG Joe Dahl, C Elliott Bosch, RG Matt Goetz, RT John Fullington) did a better job than-- I don't care whatever the box score says, they did a better job than it looks on paper. Watching that game live, I was just impressed by what they did and how often they did it."
The big takeaway from Saturday, Walden said, is that preparing for Oregon these days is like preparing for Oklahoma in the 70s.
"The teams that have beaten them, they have mostly had forever to get ready for them," said Walden. "Trying to emulate someone’s offense these days is so tough with just the one week... for me, the Oklahoma wishbone of the 70s is really similar to what Oregon is doing because it was so hard to get a scout team even close to being ready, to be able to run with the speed and precision you're going to face, and in only a few days.
"You don't have long enough to scheme and drill what you need to. That gets easier, not easy, but easier if you're facing them in a bowl game where you've got the time."
Okay, why did WSU open on defense getting no penetration for the first three Oregon drives, and then suddenly come alive in the second quarter?
"What Oregon does to your defensive line is they get you playing east-west. What the Cougar defensive line does really well is going north. And as soon as Oregon stopped making the Coug d-line go east-west, we could get into it and we did a really nice job. But as soon as they went back to making them think about going more east-west again, things changed," said Walden.
The biggest headache for the Coug D on Saturday was the same one everyone else has had - trying to stop Oregon QB Marcus Mariota. And that allowed him and the Duck running backs to not only run wild, it also left wide open pass plays.
"The only thing you can do, with Mariota, the threat of him running is so great, and they're so good at what you do, you can rush three, alternate them, maybe four rushing, but never more," said Walden. "But they've got that constant play action and read option, so you’ve got to get your five "under-people" to stay in their zone but gosh darn, it's just hard to do that. What killed us was that fake to running back and then he drops back… those five under have to leave that guy standing out there and you just lose him. For two and a half quarters I thought our front four played pretty about as well as you can, not great, but about as well as you can."
Halliday threw four interceptions, though the first and last came on a receiver falling down (Vince Mayle) and another on a deflection where Gabe Marks, who thought he was being held, could stick only one arm out there.
"Connor threw a couple balls he shouldn’t but you can't throw as often as we do against all the different coverages we will see and not have some of those mistakes," said Walden. "I don't care if you've got Peyton Manning back there. I know Connor is getting a lot of criticism and I'm not saying he doesn't deserve some of it but a lot of people are missing a lot of the picture by only focusing on him.
"I've been in his camp from Day One and I'm still in his camp because I see what he's doing out there, all of it, the good and the bad. I just wish we would pull together on him as Cougars a little more."
One final thought from Walden - the traditional running back carries, or lack thereof from the Cougs.
"We need to call them receiving backs, we don’t have running backs. None of that takes pressure off Halliday. I'm not criticizing Mike Leach, he has his system and he's had success with it. I'm just an old coach who believes in running the ball. But we don't do that and when you don't do that, a lot of (fissures) can and do pop up, and we've seen what can happen this and last year for the Cougs," said Walden.
Walden can be heard talking Cougar football Thursdays @4 p.m. on KRKO Fox Sports 1380AM with Jeff “Fish” Aaron. To listen live online CLICK HERE
“My thoughts are very upsetting today,” said Walden on the passing of Don James. “I have great sadness for Carol and his wonderful kids. I’m sad for the Husky family because I know how much they love him. And I’m sad for me because I had a great relationship with him. We were good friends, I won’t say we were intimate friends but we were very good, very professional friends both on and off the field. College football is better for having had Don James in it."
James once famously said he was a 2,000-word underdog to Walden.
“He always said that but Don James had a much better sense of humor than people know. Personally, around me and others, he was dry and I really enjoyed his company. And he loved to “gig” me in the papers and in person, he had a great sense of humor,” said Walden.