Nov. 16, 2011
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE - I'm no doctor, but I do have the remedy for Keith Price'ssprained knee.
And I have the answer for whether it will be Price again at quarterback or redshirt freshman Nick Montanadebuting for the Huskies on Saturday at Oregon State:
Give the ball Chris Polk.
Even better, Steve Sarkisianseems to have drawn the same conclusion.
"I think regardless of if it's Keith or Nick we have to make sure that we are putting our kids in the best position to be successful," Sarkisian said Monday, the day Price got an MRI exam that revealed no structural damage in his left knee - but gave no resolution on whether the second-most prolific touchdown passer in any UW season will be able to play against the Beavers.
"We have to assure that we are giving our guys the best chance to come off the football, be aggressive, play physical, play with a purpose."
The best Husky at coming off the football, being aggressive, playing physically and playing with a purpose wears No. 1 and lines up at tailback.
Polk is so brutishly effective running with the ball, often plowing through defenders whether they are blocked or not, it shouldn't matter who is handing it to him.
Especially in November and December.
In 11 career games at UW during these decisive months, Polk has rushed for 1,350 yards and eight touchdowns. He's averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 123 yards per game in November and December on the ground.
That includes the last two weeks, when Sarkisian admits he hasn't used Polk enough.
He tried Nov. 5 against Oregon, sending Polk into the Ducks' speedy defense in an effort to slow it down. Polk grinded out 80 yards on 24 carries and kept the Huskies within 24-17 into the third quarter, before mistakes doomed the Huskies in a 34-17 loss.
Last week at USC, Polk got just nine carries for 36 yards and was not a factor in Washington's 40-17 loss. With no run threat to slow them, the Trojans sacked Price four times, spraining both his knees. The last sack sent UW's trigger for 25 touchdown passes out of the game in the third quarter and to the MRI machine on Monday.
Polk knows he can do more to help his battered quarterback - or, if it comes to it Saturday in Corvallis, his new one.
And he desperately wants to.
I walked with him up the long ramp leading from the visiting locker room at Los Angeles Coliseum to the Huskies' bus after Saturday's game. The redshirt junior politely declined to comment on his or his team's lost day.
"Nah," he told me, shaking his head. "With the way today went ... nah."
|GIVE HIM THE (FROZEN) ROCK|
Chris Polk has rushed for 1,350 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 career Huskies games during November and December. He's averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 123 yards per game on the ground in those months.
He tied his career high of 34 carries last month against Arizona, joining Corey Dillon (1996) and Hugh McElhenny(1950) as the only Huskies in the last 90 years of to score five touchdowns in a game. He looked spent and had a huge ice bag on his leg late that night. Price said his roommate had a tough time getting out of bed the next day.
Yet when asked about all the work, Polk smiled and said after that game, "I love that. I'll do whatever."
Ask him about setting the Huskies record this season with his 18th career 100-yard game, or about being just 413 yards from Washington's career rushing record of 4,106 set by Napoleon Kaufmanfrom 1991-94, and the answer is the same.
"That's not the No. 1 record I want," Polk says. "I just want our team to have a better record and go to a better bowl."
It's not as if Sarkisian has forgotten that running Polk is the best way to that better bowl.
"The plan going into SC -- it was no secret, we understood the defensive line for SC was really good -- so the goal was to get them running. Get the ball outside and get those guys running," Sarkisian said. "Get the game to where it was late in the third quarter into the fourth quarter of a tight ball game, and then start leaning on them and wearing on them with Chris.
"Unfortunately, we couldn't get the game to go that way."
The Trojans' defensive backs aggressively jumped those quick passes outside to the wide receivers, so USC's defensive front barely had to run and didn't get tired. Rush ends mauled Price while getting through a Huskies offensive line that continued to lack the consistency and physicality Sarkisian demands. The Huskies were in too many second- and third-and-long jams, fell behind on the scoreboard and had to pass.
That's how their most lethal weapon at this time of year, Polk, became defused in L.A.
When asked if the offensive line's problems surprise him given the five starters there have been the same since the first day of preseason training camp in August, Sarkisian showed he realizes giving Polk more chances could help.
"It does surprise me. We've got to rectify that -- whether it is schematically, the things we're doing. Whether it's from the personnel standpoint, whose doing it , or ultimately it's the play calls," the coach said. "I understand the game got away from us. We didn't want it to go the way it did.
"Chris Polkhaving nine carries isn't good enough to win in November."
Sarkisian says it's "not that Chris needs to go out and have 35 carries. But he needs more than nine touches, that's for sure."
The coach has been dropping hints of what his next move will be to fix the offense that has stalled the last two weeks.
Monday he was naming those Huskies he thought played well at USC. He highlighted left tackle Senio Kelemete, the line's only senior, saying, "Senio, he run blocked well. The goal is to get back to that collectively. And then you can try to create some of that attitude as the game goes on."
On Tuesday during the weekly Pac-12 coaches' conference call, Sarkisian was asked why Price has gone from being second in the nation with 21 touchdown passes against four interceptions after six games to throwing just four touchdowns and six interceptions in four games since. He talked about Price trying to do too much and forcing throws but added "we haven't run the football as well to take the pressure off him."
By Wednesday, he wasn't just hinting any more.
"Regardless of who the quarterback is, if we are going to be successful we've got to run the ball," Sarkisian after Montana again ran the offense and Price again watched in full pads during a two-hour practice in the rain. "And we've got to do it well."
Sarkisian also said Wednesday night he's likely to tell the Huskies on Thursday who their quarterback is going to be at Oregon State, to get that settled inside the team "so they can move forward" mentally.
Oh, there are two another reasons why Polk could - should? - run wild Saturday in Corvallis, no matter whether Price or Montana is the Huskies' quarterback.
Oregon State is 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, allowing 184 yards per game. In the Beavers' last three games - losses to Utah, Stanford and Cal - they have surrendered a whopping 821 yards on the ground. Utah is eighth in the conference in rushing offense, yet romped for 225 yards against Oregon State.
Plus, in two previous games against the Beavers, Polk has averaged 111 yards rushing.
Sarkisian can read the same stats you and I can.
So get well soon, Keith, maybe even soon enough to play Saturday. Or good luck, Nick, in what would be your first start.
Whoever it is, follow the Huskies' most logical plan for November and December, one that can cure much of what ails them.
No. 1 comes first.
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.