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Nov. 5, 2010

Washington-Oregon Gameday Central

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by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

EUGENE, Ore. - Keith Price doesn't look worried. Not with a grin so big and constant it's almost a birthmark.

The Huskies' redshirt freshman quarterback was smiling, laughing and fist-bumping with teammates and coaches again on Friday afternoon as he casually threw passes during the team's walk-through at Autzen Stadium.

Price doesn't sound daunted, either, about making his first career start on Saturday at undefeated, No. 1 Oregon.

"Chillin'. Chillin'," he said breezily when offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier greeted him on the green-and-gold field inside what will be a zany Autzen come Saturday.

"Oh yeah, I know what it's going to be like," said the effervescent Price, who chose Washington after a recruiting visit at Oregon during a Ducks home game. "I've already been getting messages. Some of the Oregon fans, I don't even know who they are, they're getting in contact with me. I don't know, I guess they're texting me, trying to send me Facebook (messages). I don't know how they got my number."

"Oh, my goodness gracious."

Price's starting debut, created by Jake Locker's broken rib, will be televised live at 12:30 p.m. by ABC over the air to 40 percent of the nation - including the entire Western third of the country, New York City and New England. Others can watch on ESPN2 or on ESPN3.com. The Washington ISP Sports Network has the radio broadcast of UW's 12th game ever against a top-ranked team. Gohuskies.com has a live, in-game chat plus Gametracker and streaming audio on its Gameday Central page.

"I'm having fun, that's the main thing," Price said. "It's unfortunate what happened to Jake, and I'm just trying to go out there and do the best I can. I know a lot of people are not giving us a shot in the world. I'm just going out there to try and prove them wrong."

The happy-go-husky kid from Compton, Calif., introduced himself to Husky fans gloriously on Oct. 2. With Locker momentarily out injured early in the fourth quarter, Price threw for a key touchdown on his first play in Washington's eventual win at USC.

He said he spent this week trying to "rub off on my offensive linemen, just trying to make them have faith in me."

"It's kind of rough when you go from a guy the caliber of Jake to me - like, `Who are you?'" Price joked of a line that will welcome senior Cody Habben back as the starting right tackle this week. "They're having fun with me."

They always have fun around Price, about whom Sarkisian said last month "I love that kid."

What's not to love? Here's a genuine guy who's not afraid to reveal he sleeps with a football. A toy one.

"It's my Pop Warner football," Price said. "I always wanted a little brown NFL football, and we couldn't quite get that. They got me the little rubber ball, and I still have it, to this day. I loved it."

What do his roommates - Locker, right now -- think of a college quarterback sleeping with a toy ball?

"They don't know," Price said. "Keep it on the hush."

Debuts don't come any tougher in the Pac-10 - or maybe the country - than what Price is leading the Huskies (3-5, 2-3 Pac-10) into here. The Ducks (8-0, 5-0) just got done dismantling USC and have already thrashed Stanford. Sarkisian chose Oregon No. 1 this week with his vote in the coaches' poll and said Monday he wouldn't be surprised to see the Ducks playing in January's national championship game.

The last time Washington played a team ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll was in 2007, when UW lost 27-24 to USC at Husky Stadium in Locker's fifth collegiate start.

Oregon's offense is third in the nation and leads the Pac-10 with 309 yards rushing per game - 86 yards more than second-best Stanford. The Ducks have scored more than 50 points in five of their eight games and lead the country by far in scoring at 54.9 points per game. They have 55 touchdowns.

And the Ducks' fast defense is second in the conference in points allowed, at fewer than 18 per game.

Yet Price, who has played in five games this season mostly mopping up late in games, has been so refreshingly breezy - so himself - that one might think he was about to face Oregon Institute of Technology instead of the big, yellow "O."

"I don't know if it could go better," Sarkisian said of his new quarterback's week. "He's throwing the ball well on time. He's understanding his reads. There is not much hesitation and that's a real key.

"That's kind of Keith Price, though. He has got a very carefree mentality, believes in himself. I think what is neat to see is that his teammates believe in him and have rallied behind him. It's a great opportunity for him, so I'm happy for him.''

His teammates are intent on playing as loosely as Price, especially after losses at Arizona and to Stanford in which Sarkisian believes the Huskies put too much pressure on themselves and tried too hard.

"We've made it a point, let's just go play and let the plays work and go play and have fun," Sarkisian said. "If we make a mistake, be there for one another -- and also (be there for) high-fiving and chest bumping one another when we make great plays.

"I think that our guys have really adopted that mentality.''

The Huskies staff is focusing on the opportunity of toppling a kingpin and the reigning conference champs instead of on the enormity of the task.

"Anytime you get an opportunity to go play on the road against the No. 1 team in the country in their stadium I think we would be fools not to embrace that opportunity," Sarkisian said.

They'll do it with a new, dual-threat quarterback and his sunny persona, which broke through some dark clouds Price endured growing up.

"One of my closest friends, he ended up getting shot in the neck in the middle of my senior year," he said. "My grades started dropping, and I didn't know if I was going to qualify. It was just a whole bunch of off-the-field stuff, but football has always been my first love."

That is, since his basketball coach cut him following his junior year at St. John Bosco High School because of a conflict between Price's seven-on-seven summer drills with the football team and summer basketball tournaments.

Price got to St. John Bosco - and thus, UW - because his parents got him off what they saw as a dead-end path with the wrong crowd. They moved him to live with his grandparents, and into private school.

"Definitely, I give all the credit to my grandmother, my mom, my dad, my grandfather. They really helped me get on the right path as far as school," he said. "I'm the first person to go to college in my family, so I have a big, big family support.

"I'm pretty sure you saw them at the USC game, there were about 30 of them," Price said. "They are very proud of me."

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