Sept. 21, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - His legs are wrapped and braced, yet Keith Price runs on for the Huskies.
"I thought he moved better this Wednesday than a Wednesday ago. I'm encouraged by that," coach Steve Sarkisian said after his quarterback with one sore knee plus a formerly sprained one completed another practice.
Price is expected to start Saturday at 12:30 p.m. when Washington (2-1) plays its Pac-12 opener against California (3-0) at Husky Stadium (ROOT Sports television locally, Fox Sports Network nationally, plus the Washington IMG College radio network and here at GoHuskies.com with the live game chat).
Sarkisian, a record-setting passer at Brigham Young in the 1990s, said he doesn't think the knee soreness hasn't changed Price's throwing mechanics. And the results agree with him.
Price's 11 touchdown passes are the most over any three-game span in UW's 122-season history, and has him tied with Bowling Green's Matt Schilz for the national lead.
"The only thing mechanically is just not being able to really run," Sarkisian said. "He's still quick and elusive. We see that in the pocket. We see it in some suddenness on the about 6, and 7-yard runs. He just hasn't been able to open up and go like the way he can.
"But again, I thought he moved and ran better (Wednesday) in a lot of our movement stuff. And I'd imagine he'd even be better (Thursday)."
Price said his right knee, which he sprained in the opening win over Eastern Washington, is almost back to full health and that "I wasn't expecting it to heal this fast.
"Probably by Saturday (that knee) will be 100 percent," he said.
Then he laughed and said of his first month as Jake Locker's replacement as UW's quarterback, "I didn't expect to be this beat up ... I'm injuring myself!"
Sarkisian got a kick out of how much more of the playbook there is that he has yet to use for Price this season - sore knees or not.
"Oh, we've got all sorts of stuff," Sarkisian said, laughing.
"We're about on course with what we'd normally be (at this point in a season). You don't try to throw everything at the kids at once. And you try to give them some things week to week that they get excited about and they like to run - and also that fits the opponent and what they run. ... You can't call all those plays. So we try to save some things from week to week to input."
One of the first things Sarkisian did before preparing for Cal this week was chat with freshman running back Bishop Sankey. Sankey fumbled a kickoff early in the third quarter last weekend to give Nebraska the ball at the Huskies 1. It proved to be the pivotal play of the Cornhuskers' decisive spurt.
"He's OK," Sarkisian said. "I reminded the team, and I reminded Bishop: The opening kickoff of the 2010 season (at BYU), a guy by the name of Chris Polk dropped that one, too -- and went on to rush for 1,400 yards last year.
"So you can rebound. One play doesn't define a young man, and Bishop will be fine." Sankey was back returning that kickoff at Nebraska because Jesse Callier hurt his knee and hamstring earlier in the game. Sarkisian isn't sure if Callier will be able to play against Cal, though he thought his sophomore running back also moved better in Wednesday's practice.
PASS RUSH HELP?
The Huskies have been saying all month they need less hesitation and more decisive blitzing to get better pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Judging by how Josh Shirley played during spring drills - and especially by what he is doing in practice this week -- he could be the man for the job.
"Josh has had his best week of practice. (Tuesday) and (Wednesday) were the best two practices he's had since spring ball," Sarkisian said of the 6-foot-3, 229-pound speed rusher and redshirt freshman. "I don't know exactly where the light turned on, but it did. I expect him to get more involved this Saturday when he's on the field, to be more productive.
It's part of the natural progression of a new player in his first month in college football and in UW's defensive system.
"He's just playing faster," Sarkisian said. "So the goal is to get that to carry over on Saturday."