Quarterback Keith Price leaves the game just before halftime and does not return with an injury to his passing shoulder, and the Huskies (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) come back from 27-7 down to within 27-24 – but go no further.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
PASADENA, Calif. – Keith Price stood tall amid supreme pain and disappointment, against a rock wall outside the visitors’ locker room at the Rose Bowl. The taller he stood, the more the ice pack on his aching right shoulder rustled.
“It was rough. Rough,” the senior quarterback and soul of the Huskies said.
He was referring to the pain in his throwing shoulder that forced him to watch his team try to come back in the second half without him at UCLA on Friday night. He also meant the frustration at coming up short again in leading the program to taking that “next step” against a top-tier opponent.
“It hurt pretty bad. I don’t just come out of a game that easily,” Price said in a low, quiet voice, after X-rays were negative and before an MRI scheduled for Saturday.
“It’s unfortunate. I’m disappointed. And it hurts.”
Two fumbles early then crucial penalties put UW in a 27-7 hole at the 13th-ranked team in the country. They chased those two lost possessions that led to UCLA touchdowns in vain the rest of the night, battling back to within 27-24 behind backup quarterback Cyler Miles before ultimately losing 41-31.
“It’s frustrating. We can’t turn the ball over the ball over two times in our first two drives of the game against a good team like that,” Price said.
When asked if he thought he could play next Saturday, Nov. 23, at Oregon State, Price said “I’m not sure.”
This defeat stings these Huskies (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) as much or more as the three-point loss at No. 5 Stanford did last month. Like it did that night against the Cardinal, Washington out-gained the Bruins (432 yards to 406).
Coach Steve Sarkisian let out a huge, extended sigh before he began talking about this one.
“That was a frustrating, frustrating game for us,” Sarkisian said, his white team cap pulled low and his arms crossed tightly and pressed into his chest. “It’s a frustrating moment for me and for the team.
“But we’ve got to get back up (for the final two regular-season games, at Oregon State and versus Washington State). It’s going to be a big challenge.
“That locker room is hurting right now.”
True freshman Damore’ea Stringfellow had a breakout game with eight catches, 147 yards and one determined touchdown on which he carried two Bruins 3 yards across the goal line after getting hit twice. That made it 41-31 with 8:01 remaining. He had the second-most yards for a Husky receiver in a game this season.
“I don’t know, something got into me, working so hard, me and as a team,” Stringfellow said. “We never got our heads down.”
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound hulk had another touchdown called back on a dubious hands-to-the-face penalty on left guard Dexter Charles in the second quarter.
“He has a chance to be a real star for us,” Sarkisian said.
The blown call on Charles for pushing a Bruins first in the chest plate, and then up toward the neck but never in the face. A legitimate pass-interference call on safety Sean Parker for grabbing a Bruins receiver before Parker intercepted Brett Hundley’s pass on UCLA’s first possession. A clear face-mask foul on cornerback Greg Ducre 20 yards from where a third-down incomplete pass landed. Those were huge in Washington’s fourth conference defeat to a ranked team in the last six weeks.
Ducre’s penalty extended a UCLA drive that ended in one of four rushing touchdowns by Bruins linebacker Myles Jack, the freshman from Bellevue High School outside Seattle.
Miles, a redshirt freshman from Denver, finished 15 for 22 for 149 yards passing with two touchdowns and two, late interceptions in the second half. Price was 10 for 18 for 181 yards and a touchdown before he watched the second half in a team sweat suit on the Huskies sideline.
Sarkisian liked how Miles commanded the offense and played without hesitation – and how the moment of the game being on the line against a rugged foe wasn’t too big for the heir apparent to Price in 2014.
“I was very impressed,” Sarkisian said. “He didn’t look like a backup in the game to me. He looked like a starter.”
Seferian-Jenkins fumbled following a third-down catch for what would have been a first down on the game’s opening possession. Bishop Sankey uncharacteristically fumbled after making a move past a Bruin for a first down on the next drive. That’s how UCLA led 14-0 after just 5½ minutes.
“We didn’t hold onto the ball the first two drives of the game. Outside of that we played pretty good,” Sarkisian said. “When you turn the ball over twice to start the game and you put yourself in a 14 to nothing hole you’ve got fight and scratch and claw – and we did that, so I’m proud of that. We’ve got to take care of the ball better, and reduce the penalties.”
Unlike when their last road game began similarly, last month’s big loss at Arizona State, the Huskies showed grit and responded after being down by 20 early – even without their usual leader at quarterback.
Defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha started UW’s rally from 27-7 down by forcing a UCLA fumble that freshman safety Kevin King, making his second consecutive start for injured Will Shamburger, recovered in the second quarter. The Huskies converted that into Price’s lone touchdown pass, 2 yards to Jaydon Mickens. That made it 27-14 in the second quarter. It was Price’s 73rd career TD throw, 9th-most in Pac-12 history to break his tie with USC’s Carson Palmer.
Price was hurt getting driven into the turf after consecutive throws on UW’s final two offensive plays of the first half. He tried one throw on the sideline and could not raise his arm without searing pain. That’s when he knew he was unlikely to return.
Cory Littleton recovered a UCLA fumble on the second-half kickoff, then Miles’ first pass became his second career touchdown throw, 1-yard to Seferian-Jenkins. That made it 27-24 with almost the entire second half to play.
But the UCLA (8-2, 5-2) scored the game’s next 14 points. Then Miles badly overthrew Mickens for an interception, and after a UCLA punt, he forced a pass over the middle toward Stringfellow for another interception that essentially ended it with 2:50 left and UW out of time outs.
Sankey, the nation’s No. 3 rusher entering the game, finished with 91 yards on 27 carries with a touchdown run that made it 14-7 in the first quarter – after those two fumbles early that UW never fully overcame.
Kikaha put it best.
“If you can’t catch a break it’s a terrible feeling,” the senior co-captain said. “But at the same time, we can’t allow ourselves to get in that position to begin with.”
Now it’s on to Oregon State then home for the Apple Cup the day after Thanksgiving. The quest to improve on three consecutive, increasingly unsatisfying seven-win seasons is down to its last chances.
“Without a doubt, we will go play good football the last two games,” Sarkisian said. “I do know that this team will get off the mat. It’s already started. We had good leadership in the locker room after the game. And we’ll bounce back and we’ll fight next week like crazy in Corvallis.
“We are a close team. And we need each other right now. We need to get up off the mat – together.”