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Cougars aim to air it out in Seattle

8/28/2014

The skies may or may not open over Seattle on Thursday ... and not with rain.

With the Washington State Air Raid offense traveling across the state to face Rutgers, it’s almost certain there will be a show -- directed by Mike Leach and starring Connor Halliday (with a slew of supporting actors in the form of receivers one through nine in the Cougar offense).

In Leach’s third year at the helm of the Cougars and Halliday’s third year in leading the offense, there seems no better game to get the season kicked off on the right foot.

With the Cougars focused on making the postseason and winning a bowl game this season, they need to make a good first impression. Most signs point to that being likely against Rutgers.

Because not only does Halliday have three years of experience in the Air Raid offense and a herd of wide receivers to toss to, he’s also going against one of the least-experienced groups of defensive backs he’ll face all season.

At corner, the Scarlet Knights will be starting Justin Goodwin -- a recently converted running back -- and Gareef Glashen, who started just six games last season. At safety, Rutgers has Lorenzo Waters (24 career starts) at strong safety and another element of inexperience in free safety Delon Stephenson (one start in 2013). And like most teams, Rutgers is going to have to delve deeper into its defensive back depth to keep up with the clip at which Washington State gets fresh receivers into the game.

Last year, Rutgers allowed 170 passes of 10 or more yards and 58 passes of 20-plus yards. On third downs, opponents converted on 39 percent of pass plays and on fourth downs, opponents converted on 58 percent of pass plays.

Sounds like a perfect storm for Halliday, right?

And even if he weren’t facing an inexperienced secondary right out of the gates, one would assume that he’d be taking a marked step forward simply because it's his third year in the program with Leach.

Previous quarterbacks under Leach have excelled in their third seasons. At Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury went from 25 touchdowns in his second season under Leach to 45 touchdowns in his third full season. And though his completion percentage slightly dropped between those two seasons, he also attempted about 200 more passes in 2002 than he did in 2001.

Most of Graham Harrell’s statistics stayed pretty similar between Seasons 2 (2007) and 3 (2008) of being a full-time starter under Leach, however one area of marked improvement was in his touchdown-to-interception ratio, which dropped from one interception for every 3.4 touchdowns to one interception for every five touchdowns. Certainly Halliday, who had one interception for every 1.5 touchdowns last season could help out the team if his ratio improved like Harrell’s did.

So keep your eyes to the sky in Seattle on Thursday because the Halliday Show is coming to town and chances are it will be better than last season.