Oct. 1, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SALT LAKE CITY - Up by just 10-7 -- the only touchdown created by his special teams -- Steve Sarkisian had Keith Price stand on a stool in the middle of the locker room at halftime. The coach then called out his quarterback.
OK, he didn't exactly rip him. Even the hard-driving, high-standards Sark can't tear into the always-smiling Price, the national leader in touchdown throws entering the weekend.
"Can we get back to playing `Keith Price Football' now?" Sarkisian playfully called out to Price for being uncharacteristically jittery in the first half. "Can we?"
Price's - and ultimately the Huskies' -- answer: "Yes, we can."
And hey, "Chris Polk Football" isn't half bad, either.
Price was marvelous after Sarkisian put him on the spot, throwing three touchdown passes in the second half. Polk, his roommate, plowed for 189 yards -- 145 after halftime. And the Huskies' defense showed Utah what life in the Pac-12 can be like by forcing five turnovers in their 31-14 steamrolling of some deflated Utes on Saturday night in front of 45,412 stunned natives at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
It was the largest margin for a road victory for Washington (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) since an 18-point win on Nov. 3, 2007, at Stanford. And it would have been larger, if not for a Utah touchdown in extreme garbage time with 7 seconds left.
Price limped some on his sprained left knee in the first half and overthrew Austin Seferian-Jenkins near the Utah goal line when UW could have gone up 14-0 early. Sarkisian thought his passer looked uncharacteristically "jittery," and Price admitted he was rushing himself, pressing for huge plays.
Yet he rebounded - like Charles Barkley in his prime.
Price ended up completing 22 of 30 throws - raising his season average that was 67 percent coming in -- for 226 yards. His touchdown passes to Kasen Williams, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, with Aguilar making a brilliant catch leaping and reach back for a throw behind him in the end zone, put the game away in the second half.
UW had 112 yards on 30 plays in the first half. It gained 299 yards on 42 plays after the break.
"Coach basically challenged me. But I knew. He didn't have to tell me anything," said Price, who now has 17 touchdown passes in five games. "I'm a better player than that.
"I knew what he was getting at. I had to play better."
Polk ripped through defenders to pass Joe Steele for second all-time on UW's career rushing list. And Washington won for the eighth time in nine games to continue Sarkisian's remarkable rebound from UW going 0-12 three seasons ago.
"Yeah, it's a statement," Polk said of the resounding win as a doubted road underdog. "We felt we had stuff to prove."
Indeed, the proving of Husky football continues.
A year ago Sunday, Washington won at the last play at USC to end a 13-game road losing streak. Now it has won five of its last eight away from Seattle, including last December's Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
"We're growing," Sarkisian said. "We're moving forward."
So is Polk. In a hurry.
The redshirt junior now has 3,172 yards rushing. He's 934 behind Napoleon Kaufman, the Huskies' all-time rushing leader from 1991-94.
"That means everything to me," Polk said. "But I'd rather have more wins and go to a better bowl."
The high-flying Huskies are off to their best start since 2006 entering its bye week and an Oct. 15 home game against Colorado.
Was 0-12 really only three seasons past? It seemed like a lifetime ago Saturday night.
"This just sends a message," Price said. "Just shows how good our team is."
As revived as the offense was in the second half, it was the physicality and decisiveness with which the defense played throughout that was the most important development on this purple-and-gold night inside a sea of red.
"The defense won this football game for us, without a doubt," Sarkisian said.
Washington was allowing 36 points and 470-plus yards per game. It was missing leading pass rusher Hau'oli Jamora to a blown out knee.
The Huskies held Utah to 17 yards rushing on 23 attempts. John White, the Pac-12's second-leading rusher averaging 126.7 yards per game, managed just 35 on 14 forgettable carries.
The Dawgs knocked quarterback Jordan Wynn out of the game in the third quarter with a separated shoulder while collecting two sacks. They had five tackles for losses, and five passes broken up by a secondary that Utah (2-2, 0-2) tested repeatedly with deep passes that failed.
It was a complete reincarnation compared to September.
"We just had a chip on our shoulder," said linebacker and co-captain Cort Dennison, who led the Huskies again with 10 tackles while playing a couple of blocks from his high school. "We wanted to come out and show we have a whole lot better defense than we'd been showing."
They did that. The Huskies' had a Utes team that entered third in the nation in turnover margin at plus-9 dropping the ball all over the Wasatch Mountain range.
"We got the turnovers because we were very aggressive," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. "We finally put a consistent four quarters together, that and not having mental lapses.
"What I'm really, really proud of was we were really physical. We out-hit them."
The two mental errors they did have, Desmond Trufant's 15-yard penalties for kick-catching interference and then his pass interference on the same drive in the first half, became moot when Trufant stripped Utah's Dres Anderson off the ball and recovered the fumble at the Huskies 6.
The Huskies turned that into Erik Folk's 44-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead - the only other UW score in the half coming when Garret Gilliland forced a fumble on the opening kickoff and Jamaal Kearse returned it 18 yards for a touchdown to give UW the best start imaginable.
Then came the Keith Price celebrity roast at halftime.
Price and Polk said they picked each other up at the break.
"When I'm struggling, he'll open me up. And when he's struggling, I can open his game up," Price said.
Polk said, "Keith and me, it's a dual effort. The better one of is, the more it helps the other get going. You don't have one without the other."
The defense and the yin and yang of Price. That's essentially how the Dawgs just about pushed Utah back into the nearby Great Salt Lake.
Price's four victories in five starts is the best debut for a new Huskies' starting QB since Cody Pickett began the 2001 season 4-0. He's already in Washington's career top 10 over an entire season. He stayed way ahead of the 65 passing percentage that is Steve Pelluer's team record from 1983. And he remained well ahead of the school record for passing efficiency for a season, 153.8 by Brock Huard in 1997.
Yet he, too, is not impressed.
"No, I have to keep going," Price said, smiling again. "I have to get better."
Not satisfied with three more TD passes and a 17-point conference win on the road?
Now that's progress.
QUICK STRIKES: Polk's 15th career 100-yard rushing day ties him with Greg Lewis for second-most in Huskies history, two behind Kaufman. ... Washington also found itself in the third quarter for the first time this season. They entered Saturday being outscored 33-13 just after halftime. They walloped the Utes in the third quarter here, out-scoring them 14-0 and out-gaining them 198-28. Polk gained 105 yards in the quarter, but said he was unimpressed. "I left a lot of yards out there," he said. ... The Utes had won 10 in row when coming off a bye week -- until the Huskies showed up for the first-ever Pac-12 game at Utah.