April 30, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - It was Keith Price Day at the Huskies' annual spring game.
The sophomore quarterback made a strong bid to replace Jake Locker by completing 20 of 28 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns Saturday. He then punctuated his brilliant-as-the-sunny-skies afternoon with a 29-yard scoring sprint while untouched on a bootleg around left end, as the Dawgs team defeated the Huskies team 31-14 in front of an estimated 10,000 at Husky Stadium.
Coach Steve Sarkisian said afterward he was not yet ready to announce whether Price, a sophomore who started one game last season when Locker was injured, or redshirt freshman Nick Montana was the starting quarterback entering fall.
When asked after the fast-paced game if Price was the leader entering the summer, the coach said, "I would think so."
"My wife wants me to decide (on a QB), so she doesn't have to keep getting asked, either," Sarkisian joked.
Montana, a redshirt freshman playing with his Hall of Fame father Joe watching, completed 9 of 20 throws for 146 yards and two touchdowns. That included a late one on a nifty 70-yard catch and run by Cody Bruns.
"We'll assess it all. When the timing's right, we'll make a decision," Sarkisian said of Washington's first question at QB since before Locker took over in September 2007. "It's a great battle."
He and his offensive staff will like the tapes from Saturday.
Price stepped up coolly in the pocket and threw well on the run. His throws were dart-like, as they were most of the spring. Two of Price's three scoring passes were to senior-to-be Jermaine Kearse. His final one was a deftly lofted touch throw to the sideline of the end zone to James Johnson, who had six catches for 52 yards. Johnson also caught a TD throw from Nick Montana.
Montana and Price alternated with the first- and second-team offense throughout the game, which had four, 15-minute quarters with a running clock except for the changes of possession and the final 2 minutes of each half.
"They've both competed at a high level," Sarkisian said of their QBs, marveling at their relative inexperience. "To think, after 15 practices of spring ball, I think we've only thrown six interceptions combined."
Sarkisian had said on Friday he was considering announcing his choice at quarterback entering the fall following Saturday's game. He said he saw value in the team knowing its identity and its offensive leader entering the next three months before preseason camps begins.
Then Price shined even more than he did last Saturday in a full scrimmage.
"This is two scrimmages in a row he's really performed," Sarkisian said.
He wasn't alone. Safety Nate Fellner was hitting and breaking up plays all over the field for the first-team defense, which continued its strong month against the first-team offense. Cort Dennison, the lead Dawg at middle linebacker, chased Price and Montana from sideline to sideline. And defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu picked up where he left off in December's Holiday Bowl, dominating the line of scrimmage and negating anything inside.
"In that first half, Ta'amu might have been the MVP," Sarkisian said of the 330-pound stuffer, who will be a senior this fall.
Coordinator Nick Holt's young defense also found a rush end this month. Redshirt freshman Josh Shirley was again nearly unstoppable on the outside as a standup end-outside linebacker ruining quarterback's plays.
And Sarkisian's offense found a tight end. Early enrollee Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a 6-foot-6 ball magnet who was in high school in Gig Harbor, Wash., this time last month, caught nearly everything thrown between the hashmarks all spring. Didn't matter whether he was open or double-teamed in coverage.
Kohler, who started five games and played in 11 of UW's 13 last season as a true freshman, limped off the field late in the game and scared some Huskies by lying on a training table in pain. But Sarkisian said both he and Kimble have relatively minor sprains that should not threaten their ability to participate in all of fall camp.
The Huskies are now off from official practices until preseason practices begin in early August prior to the Sept. 3 opener against Eastern Washington.
In the meantime, the Dawgs have found an initial offensive identity to build upon in 2011. That bodes well as they enter the newly expanded Pac-12 and try to follow the progression of Sarkisian's UW career: From 0-12 to 5-6 in his first season of 2009, then to 7-6 last season and a third-place finish in the Pac-10.
The Huskies will use the tight end more, simply because they have a potentially dominant one now. They will use more two-back sets with the quarterback under center, as they continue to emphasize pocket passing behind an offensive line that is searching for starters at right tackle and left guard.
Sarkisian is as close to the USC style of offense, with which he won Rose Bowls as top Trojans assistant, as he's been since he arrived to lead UW in January 2009.
"I think we're a physical group. We're much more pro style than we've been in the first couple years here," Sarkisian said, assessing what he learned over these 15 spring practices. "Obviously, with the usage of the tight ends, with the fullback, getting the ball spread to five receivers and not knowing where the ball could be going on every snap, and the ability to play-action pass even more ... (it) makes teams defend the entire field.
"I think this spring has helped us with the style of play that we'd like to become."