Sept. 19, 2011
NOTE: The UW-Utah game on Oct. 1 kicks off at 4:00 p.m. PT/5:00 p.m. MT and air on ROOT Sports (in the Northwest) and FSN (nationally).
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Keith Price practiced Monday.
Of course he did.
And of course the nation's co-leader in touchdown passes will play again on Saturday beginning at 12:30 p.m., when the Huskies (2-1) host California (3-0) in the Pac-12 opener at Husky Stadium (ROOT Sports regionally, FSN nationally, plus the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with the live game chat and streaming audio).
Price will play despite another brace, this one on his left knee -- just as he takes one off his previously sprained right knee.
"Oh, no, I'm playing. I'm playing this week," Price said with another huge grin, before he did most of the work in Monday's 65-minute workout.
That was two days after he was limping yet throwing four touchdown passes in Washington's loss at Nebraska.
"I don't know what they'd have to do. They'd probably have to cut off my legs or something (to keep me from playing)," he joked.
Coach Steve Sarkisian said there is no structural damage in either knee. That makes it a pain-management and stability issue for the redshirt sophomore.
So yes, Price will start against Cal, which as Sarkisian noted features a physical defensive front and an aggressive secondary that will challenge UW's passing game that is averaging 230 yards per game.
"He's sore, but that's football," said Sarkisian, a second-team All-America quarterback at Brigham Young in the 1990s.
"I think we learned a lot about Keith Price through the first quarter of the season. He's a tough kid, he's got a play-making ability about him, and I think our teammates have learned a lot about him and have rallied behind him, as well.
"He'll be sore, but it won't keep him off the field."
Seems right now like almost nothing will.
His 11 touchdown throws to start the season are the most by anyone in any three-game span in the 122 seasons of Husky football. It is also tied with Matt Schilz of Bowling Green for tops in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Saturday at Nebraska, with 85,000 Cornhuskers fanatics screaming at him and endless swarms of Big Red pass rushers chasing him, Price was mostly restricted from being his usual, quick, elusive self. Yet he still threw four touchdown passes, for the second consecutive week.
"It's taken it away. I can't lie. I haven't been able to run like I can," Price said.
Then he added, modestly, "You know, I've been throwing the ball pretty well, so ..."
Pretty well? He's been brilliant, especially considering Price says he's been using alternative methods, other than pushing off his legs, to deliver accurate, strong throws.
"I just have to compensate," Price said, "over-compensate with my core. And I have to throw a tighter spiral and have more velocity on the ball.
"I never imagined playing without my legs," Price said. "That used to be a big part of my game. ... But I will be all right."
Pressed to disclose how he has thrown 11 touchdown passes on sore knees, Price deflected credit with another smile.
"Guys have been getting open," he said. "That's the key. The line is doing a great job. I don't have to do much but throw to the open guy. And that's what I've been doing."
To think, a few weeks ago some Huskies fans were fretting about life without Jake Locker.
What Price is doing is perhaps beyond even the high expectations of Sarkisian.
"He's playing phenomenal football for us right now. He's been lights out," the third-year coach said of the former spread-offense thrower at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif., whom Sarkisian and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier have molded in their system since Day 1 at UW.
"He's managed the game extremely well," Sarkisian said. "His demeanor, his command, his competitiveness... he's all we ever could have asked for up until this point."
The latest example of his competitiveness came late in the decisive third quarter last weekend at Nebraska. Price, who completed 21 of 37 throws for 274 yards, rolled left on a bootleg. While falling, he gamely shoveled a toss to Devin Aguilar for a 3-yard gain then felt pain in his left knee, opposite the one he sprained in the opener two weeks ago. Two plays later, the Cornhuskers sacked the limping Price on fourth and 2 from the Nebraska 12.
The Cornhuskers ended their ensuing drive with a touchdown that made it 44-17.
Yet Price and the Huskies would not relent. With backup Nick Montana warming up near the bench, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Price waddled up to Sarkisian and Nussmeier on the sidelines and told each coach, "I'm good."
"There was no way I was coming out of that game," Price said Monday.
He withstood Nebraska's punishing defensive front and his increasing limp to complete 5 of 8 passes in the fourth quarter for 94 yards and the two touchdowns to James Johnson, of 10 yards and 52 yards. That, plus a 2-yard touchdown run by Chris Polk, brought the Huskies within 13 points twice in the final period - and cast a much different tone on this week of preparation for the all-important Pac-12 season.
"That just shows his heart," senior wide receiver and co-captain Jermaine Kearse said of Price, who was making his fourth college start.
That heart doesn't surprise his coach.
"He's a competitive guy. You should see him play basketball," Sarkisian said. "He doesn't ever want to lose. All of us took the loss very difficult on Saturday, but I don't know if anybody took it any harder than he did. That one hurt him.
"He's got a real passion. Growing up here, within our culture, within our team, I think he loves his teammates and respects them and wants to do everything he can to give them the best chance to win."
He will do that again on Saturday against Cal. And he will do it at less than 100 percent. Again.
"It's kind of funny: He will be taking the knee brace off the right one and putting it on his left one now," Sarkisian said. "Maybe in a couple weeks he'll be back to knee-brace free football."
QUICK HITS: Sarkisian said TB Jesse Callier's knee injury from the Nebraska game is in the back of the leg, and that the injury is perhaps more serious than the shin one sustained by starting OLB Princeton Fuimaono. Both Callier and Fuimaono participated in Monday's no-pads practice. .... Sarkisian is hopeful the defense can get 2010 starter Nate Fellner back at safety this week. Fellner stayed out at Nebraska because of a hamstring injury. ... Sarkisian is too immersed in the season to have deep thoughts on the possibility of the Pac-12 perhaps becoming the Pac-16, with Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State reportedly mulling the ever-changing landscape of college conferences. But Sarkisian does recognize the potential value such a move could provide his Huskies. "The first thing that just jumps out to me as a coach, if that's what we decide to do, I think that opens up another fertile recruiting ground for us to where it's really tangible for a kid from Texas to maybe come to the University of Washington," he said. "But outside of that, I don't know. I don't understand all the ramifications of how it would get broken up and the schedule and all that. That's out of my hands."