PULLMAN, Wash. — For one game at least, Washington State freshman Connor Halliday looked like the best quarterback in the Pac-12.
Halliday was 27 of 36 for 494 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in Saturday's win over Arizona State, shattering team and league records during the first significant playing time of his career. It was the most prolific passing performance in the Pac-12 this season and the 10th-highest total in league history.
"He's got a great knack," coach Paul Wulff said. "But it's one game. I'm not going to anoint him (an Andrew) Luck yet because that's not my style. He's got a lot of growing to do."
Halliday was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week after throwing for the most yards ever posted by a freshman quarterback in the conference. He also broke the Washington State freshman record of 385 held by Drew Bledsoe.
Oh, and Halliday didn't even start the game.
The plan was to have him enter in the third series in place of Marshall Lobbestael, play a couple of series and then likely come out.
"We planned on the third series but I told him, 'If Marshall comes out and scores five series in a row, you ain't playing,'" offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said.
Halliday confounded that plan by hitting Marquess Wilson for an 85-yard touchdown strike with his first pass.
"We've been looking to run that play for about five weeks now and we finally got the look," Halliday said. "How lucky can you be? Your pretty much first meaningful college snap and you've got a guy running wide open down the field."
Halliday will start this Saturday against Utah (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12).
"That's a career day for a lot of guys and those were his numbers after his first opportunity," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
With receivers Wilson, Isiah Barton and Jared Karstetter making circus catches, the Cougars (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) beat Arizona State 37-27 to keep their bowl hopes alive with two games left.
"You get on a roll and your confidence starts growing, you just start making plays," Wulff said. "Sometimes certain people give you more confidence the way they play."
Halliday is from Ferris High in Spokane and he redshirted last year. Heading into the Arizona State contest, he had appeared in two games, completing 11 of 19 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns
Sturdy said Halliday had been struggling to learn the WSU offense earlier in the season, but had come on strong in practice the past few weeks.
Wulff said Halliday throws a particularly "catchable ball."
"It looked comfortable out there, didn't it?" said Wulff.
The quarterback position has been anything but settled at WSU this season. Projected starter Jeff Tuel fractured his collarbone on his first series of the season and has played only sporadically since. Lobbestael, who expected little playing time, has played well in eight starts but didn't have the running or throwing ability of the others.
Halliday benefited from a huge day by the receivers, who had been plagued by dropped passes in recent weeks.
Wilson caught eight passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore has surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in each of his two seasons. Wilson's 1,197 yards receiving this season are a team record and he still has two games left.Comment on this story
"He did a phenomenal job," Wilson said of Halliday. "He was reading pockets and making the right throws."
Barton added 155 yards on seven receptions, while Karstetter — Halliday's high school teammate — caught six for 63 yards.
Wulff will be watching closely this weekend to see how Halliday responds to the pressure of being No. 1 on the depth chart.
"There is a difference and it's always a concern," Wulff said. "You are a little more relaxed coming off the bench."
"But he's got to get that first start sometime," Wulff said.