Mariota v. Bennett Resolved – Just in Time for Washington State’s Mike Leach to Steal the Spotlight with Tuel v. Halliday
August 29, 2012
Late last week, the University of Oregon captured the attention of many within the collegiate football mainstream, announcing late Thursday that the Ducks’ coaching staff would announce Friday just who – veteran Bryan Bennett or newcomer Marcus Mariota – Chip Kelly would name to pilot his high-octane offense in 2012.
To the surprise of just about no one, Kelly revealed the next day that the younger – and, arguably, more athletic- of the two candidates, Mariota, had been chosen as Oregon’s starter under center heading into a season-opener this week against Arkansas State.
An odd sense of release was felt throughout the Pac-12 following Kelly’s announcement, with the main focus of the last few days of preseason camps seeming to finally fall away from a highly-contested quarterback competition in Eugene an, instead, toward the building sense of excitement surrounding the approach of a new season of college football – and whether USC or Oregon might, in fact, end up influential enough to affect in the outcome of the race for the 2013 national championship.
That calm – like the air surrounding the city of New Orleans at the start of this past weekend, when Tropical Storm Isaac was a threat only to the state of Florida – proved ultimately fleeting, however, with a new spotlight shed - surprising as that might be – this week on the oft-forgotten northwestern oasis of Pullman, Washington and the battle taking place there between Jeff Tuel and Conner Halliday to serve as No. 1 quarterback for Washington State’s wily pirate of a first-year head coach, Mike Leach.
Yep, with just two days remaining before a reenergized Cougars’ football program plays its first game of 2012 against Brigham Young University – a school Leach proudly calls his own alma mater – WSU’s head coach tells the Associated Press that both Tuel and Halliday are “playing really well” and “are very similar in the way they play,” making the task of choosing one over the other nearly impossible.
Some, citing the slippery cleverness that is Leach, claim such statements serve as mere game week chicanery, comments intended to leave a prominent question mark in the minds of BYU’s defense as to who might be found under center when the Cougars take the field in Salt Lake City Thursday evening.
And there is plenty of evidence to back such a notion.
Leach, for instance, told members of the media this past Saturday that if Washington State opened its season that afternoon, it would be Tuel, who as a sophomore threw for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns before missing much of 2011 with a shoulder injury, who would start for the Cougars
Tuel too has taken the majority of snaps with WSU’s first team offense during fall practices, further supporting the belief that he and not sophomore passer Halliday has all along been the favorite to emerge as the Cougars No. 1 quarterback.
Still, Halliday brings to the table his own impressive body of work, with the youngster filling in more than admirably for Tuel in 2011 before falling victim to a lacerated spleen that pretty much ended his first season in Pullman.
In the four games Halliday played last year, the 6-4, 189 pound native of Spokane, completed 57.3 percent of his throws for 960 yards and nine touchdowns, while throwing just four picks.
Given those numbers, is there a possibility that Leach could pull the unexpected and name Halliday his starter over Tuel on the eve of Thursday’s showdown in Salt Lake City?
We are, after all, talking about Mike Leach, who, in a previous life spent in Lubbock, Texas, led Texas Tech to 10 bowl games in ten seasons before being fired in the wake of a controversy surrounding his handling of a punishment meted out to a player with a concussion – the son of Southern Methodist standout and CBS sports commentator Craig James, of all people.
And if so, just how much truth would there be in Halliday really being picked as WSU’s lead passer?
Would Halliday remain the Cougars’ No. 1 quarterback for the long haul? Or would his taking the helm against BYU prove just a ruse on the part of Leach intended to serve as a shot over the bow of the Pac-12 warning of the impending insanity to come?
Unfortunately, answers – as tend to be the case with Leach – remain speculative at best, and, instead, leave open a gaping doorway full of possibilities to ponder over.
Minus, of course, that Washington State will field both quarterbacks on a rotational basis.
“I can’t think of very many people who have done a good job of that,” Leach notes, adding, “With rare exceptions, I cant think of many teams that were very good at it.”
Instead, passers need to get “into the rhythm of the game,” WSU’s head coach maintains, seeing and evaluating the field better as a game goes on.
Just who might gain that opportunity at this point remains a complete unknown.
Best believe, however, that it will leave plenty wanting to tune into Thursday’s contest, if only for the entertainment provided in seeing firsthand what Leach may – or may not – elect to do.
Behold the brilliance that is the mind of Mike Leach.
Long live the Pirate.