Oct. 8, 2012
|WASHINGTON VS. #11 USC
Saturday, Oct. 13 | 4 pm | CenturyLink Field | Buy Tickets
Gameday Central | TV: FOX | Radio: KJR (Affiliates)
Oct. 8, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Keith Price had just thrown his most uncharacteristic, most damaging pass of the season, an interception to the wrong side of the field.
Oregon returned it for a game-breaking touchdown in the first quarter of the Huskies' 52-21 loss Saturday night in Eugene. On the Washington sideline, Steve Sarkisian put his arm around the small of Price's back. Mentor and pupil stood shoulder to shoulder pads for a nearly a full minute. The coach tapped Price eight times on his back as he spoke to him.
Sarkisian explained to Price he was trying to do too much. That the play was a basic read from day one of the preseason and Oregon's coverage called for him to throw in the right flat instead of the left.
The coach was instructive, encouraging. But Price already knew what he'd done wrong.
After the game in which he threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, part of the five turnovers Oregon turned into 28 decisive points, Price went up to his offensive linemen. Four of them are first-year starters. Yet they allowed just one sack against the second-ranked Ducks while plowing the way for 208 yards rushing and 23 first downs.
Two days later, Price was back home preparing for the next huge test for the Huskies (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) Saturday against No. 11 USC (4-1, 2-1) at CenturyLink Field. And the quarterback was more than accountable.
He was disarmingly, refreshingly candid. He said Monday he needs to get past the major injuries to Erik Kohler, Ben Riva and the now-retired Colin Porter on his offensive line, plus the ones to his most experienced wide receiver (James Johnson) and to his lead tailback (Jesse Callier).
He said "it's just me getting back to being me."
"I think I am at my best when I am relaxed and not worried about everybody else around me," Price said. "When I am worried about 'Hey, is he going to do the right thing?' and worried about my protection and then trying to worry about what the defense is doing to me, I just need to cancel out all of those components and just stick to what I see. Stick to my preparations and just make those plays when I need to make those plays."
He says he needs get back to being the fun guy of 2011. Teammates called him "Teeth" Price as he smiled to national prominence. He set Washington season records with 33 touchdown passes, a completion rate of 66.9 percent and a pass efficiency mark of 161.09 in his first season replacing Jake Locker. Then he outplayed Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor in the wild Alamo Bowl, passing and running for seven touchdowns.
"I've just got to focus on myself. I think that's been the theme all year is not worrying about everyone else. It's so hard to do," he said. "I've been struggling with that, and I have to enjoy the game. I don't think I've been enjoying the game the past couple of weeks. I haven't been playing with the same passion as last year and the same confidence, the same ... swagger. I've got to get back to that."
Through five games, Price has 882 yards passing with five touchdowns, four interceptions, a completion rate of 59.5, and a pass efficiency of 111.76.
Last season through five games, Price had 1,209 yards passing with 17 touchdowns, four interceptions, a completion rate of 68.3 and a pass efficiency of 173.70.
"I don't feel like we have that rhythm that we had last year, that consistent rhythm of just moving the ball at will and scoring touchdowns in the red zone at will," Price said. "And part of that is on me, you know what I mean? Just not doing too much and having fun...
"So it's just me getting back to being me and leading the way I know how to lead. It's hard to truly have fun when you are frustrated. I just need to go back to playing the way that I know how to play and sticking to my rules and keeping it easy. When you have a completion, just complete the ball. If I have a stick route, don't throw it two feet above the guy."
In 2011 Price had trusted, senior receivers Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar. He also had a fully - or at least relatively - healthy offensive line that had far more experience than his current one with two sophomores and two freshmen.
"(I'm) trying to make up for all the things that I've lost," he admitted.
"We definitely have to forget about last year. This is a different offense this year. Obviously, we've had some very important injuries up front. Losing James Johnson was big for us, Jesse Callier. So it's definitely different for us, a different challenge.
"It's definitely a different ball game. But I have to channel my emotions and just ... be different. When things are not going good, just still stick to the system -- and not try to do my own thing and try to make things up."
There is another factor to consider when comparing Price now to Price five games into 2011: At this point last season Price had faced just one top-20 team: then-No. 11 Nebraska.
This season, he has already battled three in the top 10: No. 3 LSU and second-ranked Oregon on the road, after UW upset No. 8 Stanford at home. After the 11th-ranked Trojans, Washington plays at Arizona - which was ranked last month and lost in overtime at Stanford last week - then hosts No. 10 Oregon State.
That's largely why Sarkisian said of Price Monday: "I think he's been too hard on himself. It's not fair for him to do that to himself.
"You know, he lost some guys that I think he was probably counting on up front. He lost a veteran receiver that he was probably counting on. He lost a couple veteran running backs that he was probably counting on (including Deontae Cooper, who sustained a major knee injury this summer)," Sarkisian said.
"And, in turn, (Price) probably but too much pressure on himself to try to make everybody else right around him, rather than keeping the focus on himself and allowing us to fix the things that are going on around him."
Sarkisian added, "That's hopefully what we can get him back to. But to do that, everyone else has to do their jobs really well."
Price met with Sarkisian Monday morning to begin the process that the coach believes will indeed get Price right.
"He agrees with what I just said ... just me getting back to the way that I play football and having fun," Price said. "And not worrying about being a coach on the field and letting the coaches do the coaching and letting me do the playing.
"I'm just anxious to get back to that. And you guys are going to see a lot of that this week."
Even players on the Huskies' defense, who don't spend as much time with Price as ones of offense do, are noticing Price hasn't been the same this season.
He said linebacker Princeton Fuimaono came up to him Sunday, when the team began preparations for USC.
"Hey, man, what is up with you? You don't seem like yourself,'" Fuimaono said to Price.
"I know if guys are noticing that then I am doing a bad job of it," Price said. "I think I've been pressing too hard and trying to be something that I am not. I can feel myself being too serious instead of my carefree attitude, and just getting back to that.
"And I think guys respond better when I am like that. When guys see me tense up that's how our team is offensively and defensively. They look at me.
"But it will get better. I feel a lot better. I feel a lot more confidence. And, things will change this week."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Sarkisian said on his afternoon radio show later Monday "signs are pointing" to TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins being OK to play against USC. The Huskies' second-leading receiver sat out the second half at Oregon after what appeared to be a lower-leg injury at the end of his 24th reception of the season, in the second quarter. The sophomore is second in the nation among tight ends in receptions. ... The early forecast for Saturday suggests this may be the Huskies' first rain game of the season. There's a 40-percent chance of showers and a high of 60.