By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -- Amid this week’s remembrances of Don James and the “Dawgfather’s” indelible legacy, the current Huskies have pressing matters to address.
They must figure out how to end a three-game losing streak that has derailed their championship goals.
UW (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) also has to determine whether Keith Price is healthy enough to play Saturday night at 8 p.m. against California (1-6, 0-4).
Coach Steve Sarkisian did not have his team practice Monday, the first time this season the Dawgs didn’t take the field on the first full day of the work week. The coach said his team needed to regroup and that coaches and players had “lengthy” meetings to assess what’s gone wrong — especially in last weekend’s baffling, 53-24 loss at Arizona State.
The day off from practicing will help Price’s swollen, battered thumb on his passing hand. The fifth-year senior quarterback banged the thumb three weeks ago early in the second half at Stanford yet almost pulled out a win there late. Then he was off target somewhat the following week in the loss to Oregon.
Last weekend was jarring — in more ways than one. Price is currently atop the UW career list for completion percentage (63.4) but hit on just 16 of 39 throws (41 percent) at ASU. Sarkisian, a former quarterback, said he could tell Price’s thumb was affecting his throws because his shorter, spot passes were diving and his long throws were sailing. Price overthrew two potential touchdowns in the first half by 10 yards each, on post routes when Kevin Smith and Marvin Hall were behind their defenders deep over the middle.
Then again, Price was sacked six times and hit hard to the ground at least 10 other times. ASU’s defensive front swarmed him on often- unimpeded rushes through the middle of UW’s line.
So why did Sarkisian keep Price in the blowout loss until 12 minutes remained in the fourth quarter, when the third-year starter finally yielded to backup Cyler Miles -- then trudged into the visitors’ locker room at Sun Devil Stadium for X-rays on his thumb that were negative?
“Not that I’m protecting Keith Price, but I have belief in that guy,” Sarkisian said. “I’ve been in some knock-down, drag-out games where I’ve seen that guy get knocked down and get up and fight and compete (such as Stanford three weeks ago). I think that that trait he possesses resonates with our entire football organization — not just the players, but the coaches, our staff.
“I think his ability to stand tall in the most adverse times, whether it’s on the field or off the field, is really something that is really cool, that we can all see. That’s how you respond. I wanted to give him his chance to fight and compete in a game in a tough environment. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. But if that’s to a fault of mine, then it is, and I’ll take it for that, knowing our players know I’m going to be there with them.”
Sarkisian added that “I’ve known Keith for over five years now, and he’s a tough kid. And he’s going to prepare himself mentally, physically and emotionally to be ready to play (this week).
"We’ll have to figure out if that’s good enough. That’s the challenge of my job. And I embrace the challenge."
Sarkisian said he wants to see if Price is able to complete all the throws in the game plan Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in practices before he will determine whether he starts Saturday.
Sarkisian said the swelling on Price’s thumb is lower on the hand this week than before, though he wasn’t sure if that was residual from the previous injury or an injury in a new spot on the thumb. Price said in Tempe after Saturday’s game that the thumb pain is affecting how tightly he can spin the ball, and thus the velocity and accuracy of his passes.
In the next breath, Price said that was no excuse, that if he is healthy enough to be on the field he is healthy enough to make all throws in the offense — and that he wouldn’t jeopardize the team by playing if he felt unable to make those plays. He also vowed that night that he will be ready to play Saturday against Cal.
If Sarkisian and/or the Huskies’ medical staff deems Price isn’t ready, the coach said the team has confidence in Miles, a redshirt freshman from Denver.
But that’s only if Price can’t go. Make no mistake, Price remains UW’s trigger man. It’s just that now he has a damaged trigger.
Price isn’t the only captain banged up. Middle linebacker John Timu has a sprained ankle that he will test on Tuesday.
Sarkisian also said he is “hopeful” Dexter Charles will start against Cal. Charles started the first five games of the season at left guard before injuring his shoulder against Oregon two games ago. When Charles sat out against ASU Price said after the game he noticed Charles’ commanding presence and leadership missing from the offensive line.