Sept. 30, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
Instead, the Huskies' new quarterback is embracing the advice his predecessor and eighth-overall pick in April's NFL draft is giving him on what are becoming routine postgame calls, after yet another touchdown-passing spree by Price.
"Just keep it up. Just keep it up," Price says Locker has been telling him on the phone each Saturday night from his new job with the Tennessee Titans.
Hey, that's great advice!
More of the same from Price when September becomes October here at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday may send Washington (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) over new conference member Utah (2-1, 0-1) -- and off to a flying start in the league's new North division.
It's supposed to be 85 degrees here in the hometown of Huskies middle linebacker Cort Dennison, though two-thirds of the field will be in the shade by Saturday's kickoff at 4 p.m. Pacific time.
A win would be UW's eighth in nine games dating to last November, and further proof of the Huskies' growth under third-year renovation artist Steve Sarkisian.
ROOT Sports has the live telecast in the Northwest. Fox Sports Northwest is televising it nationally. The Washington IMG College network has the radio call. And we will again have the live game chat from the sidelines at Washington's first-ever game at Utah here on GoHuskies.com beginning at 3 p.m. Pacific.
Price spent Friday afternoon walking with his teammates past the 2002 Winter Olympics cauldron and then playing catch with tight end Michael Hartvigson during the Huskies' walkthrough practice at Rice-Eccles. The quarterback's characteristically cool aura was the only breeze in 90-degree sun.
Utah has won 10 in row when coming off a bye week, as it is now, and is 12-6 versus BCS schools under coach Kyle Whittingham. Utah it is second in the Pac-12 so far in scoring defense this season, allowing just 14.3 points per game. But the Utes have been vulnerable to the pass, ranking 100th in the country and allowing 263.3 yards passing per game.
Price, meanwhile, has been lethal.
He says he had two, simple goals for himself in his first month as Locker's replacement.
"Have fun," the redshirt sophomore said, beaming. "And win."
Price has had a ball, flashing his signature smile off the field, on the field - even during plays - while becoming the nation's co-leader with 14 touchdown passes against just three interceptions through four games.
One more scoring throw will put Price in Washington's career top 10 over an entire season. His passing efficiency rating is ninth in the country at 176.6 - the school record for a season is 153.8 by Brock Huard in 1997. He's completing 67 percent of his throws. The Huskies' record for an entire year is Steve Pelluer's 65 percent in 1983.
And his three victories in four starts is the best debut for a new Huskies' starting QB since Cody Pickett began the 2001 season 4-0.
If Price's October is anything like his September, if he takes the advice Locker has given him, there will be some happy Dawgs come Halloween.
Whittingham tried to recruit Price to Utah. But Sarkisian, knowing Locker wouldn't be around forever (it just seemed like it), called Price at his Compton, Calif., home just south of Los Angeles the day he took over as Washington coach in January 2009. In effect, Sarkisian was re-recruiting Price to UW.
That call resonated with Price. It re-confirmed to himself that he wanted to be a Husky.
Yet Price alone won't get Washington to 2-0 in the conference entering its bye week and then an Oct. 15 home game against Colorado.
The Huskies packed three primary keys in their luggage for Friday afternoon's 90-minute flight from Seattle:
Protect the rock.
The Utes are third nationally with eight fumble recoveries. Their turnover margin is a gaudy plus-9, also third in the country. The Huskies are plus-1. Washington beat California last week despite being minus-2 for the game. Price lost a fumble scrambling and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who caught two of Price's three TD throws in the 31-23 victory, carried the ball too loosely following a catch.
"We've got to be high and tight offensively (carrying the ball)," UW offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said, using the same words Seferian-Jenkins did this week about ball security. "And we've got to have multiple players at the ball, so they don't have a lot of guys at the ball."
Huskies linemen may be in the mood to run down field to help with that pack mentality. Sarkisian was riding them hard this week, especially during an animated practice Thursday. The coach wants more physicality from his front five.
Stay home while on the road.
More than in any game so far, the Huskies' defense must stay honest to both the run and the pass against the Utes. Junior-college transfer John White is second to Oregon's LaMichael James in the Pac-12 in rushing average (126.7 yards per game). And Jordan Wynn is a three-year starter coming off shoulder surgery, running a run and play-action pass offense that new Utah coordinator Norm Chow has been calling all over college and NFL football since the mid-1990s -- when he was coaching Sarkisian at Brigham Young.
Might Utah air it out against a Washington pass defense that is allowing 327.5 yards passing allowed per game?
"I don't think all of a sudden we are going to see the run and shoot on Saturday," Sarkisian said. "I'm sure we will get our fair share of passes and empty formations and those sorts of things that we'll have to deal with. But they are going to hand the ball off to John White, too. He's a tremendous running back. So we have to deal with both.
"They are going to run. They are going to play-action pass. They are going to spread us out."
On offense, look for Sarkisian to dial up runs for Chris Polk early, to continue his emphasis on physicality. Polk has needs one more 100-yard rushing game to tie Greg Lewis' 15 for second-most in UW history. Napoleon Kaufman had 17.
Running Polk early and often would help control field position and quell some of the red energy that is sure to be buzzing through 45,000-seat Rice-Eccles Stadium for Utah's homecoming game and first Pac-12 home game. Successes on the ground - or even, as in last weekend's game with Cal's aggressive defense, scant yardage but plenty of Polk early - would set up Price's play-action and bootleg passing.
And right now, that's one of the best things going in the country.
"Did I think he'd be leading the country in touchdown passes after four games? Probably not," Sarkisian said of Locker's replacement.
"But I did think he would play well."