The Huskies (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) have to stop Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, the nation’s most prolific passer, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the next-to-last game of the regular season to keep its goal of surpassing seven wins intact.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
First, frustration. Now … fulfillment?
The Huskies (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) arrived in the Willamette Valley Friday afternoon for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. test at Oregon State (6-4, 4-3) in the penultimate game of the regular season still gunning for an strong finish to an up-and-down regular season. Eight wins – an end to the three consecutive years with seven victories – is still possible.
And the frustration at having come close at No. 5 Stanford, for three quarters against then-second-ranked Oregon, and last week at No. 13 UCLA is still palpable.
“Really disappointed, quite honestly. Frustrated,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said this week during preparation for some angry Beavers. “But the reality of it is, we’ve got to go play a team that’s hungry and upset because they’ve lost three heartbreakers in a row too.
“So we don’t have time to sit around with the ‘Woe is me’ mentality. We’ve got to get ready to go play in Corvallis on Saturday night, on Senior Night for those guys, a hostile environment -- and it’s going to take a great effort by our team to get a victory.”
It may also take more than one quarterback.
Keith Price tested the shoulder he injured on a hit late in the first half of last week’s loss at UCLA by throwing in practice Thursday. It was his first on-field work this week. Sarkisian and the Huskies aren’t sure if Price will make his 26th consecutive start on Saturday.
If he doesn’t, Cyler Miles will make his first career start. The redshirt freshman from Denver threw two touchdown passes trying to rally the Huskies last week and had UW within three points of UCLA in the second half. He threw two interceptions late in the 41-31 loss.
The last start Price missed: November 2011 in Corvallis. Nick Montana started because of Price’s knee injury. The Huskies fell behind before Price entered the game in the fourth quarter . They briefly rallied with him before losing 38-21.
“I’m hurt again for Oregon State. It’s déjà vu all over again,” Price said.
“I’m treating it like any other week. I’ve been watching crazy hours of film and getting treatment — that’s pretty much all I’ve been doing,” the fifth-year senior said. “I still have a high belief that I’ll play, I’ve been rehabbing like I’m going to play, so hopefully I’m ready to go.”
Whoever quarterbacks the Huskies, he will likely be handing off often to Bishop Sankey. Again. The nation’s No. 4 rusher with 139.6 yards per game, one of only four Huskies to have more than one 1,000-yard rushing season, is facing the seventh-ranked defense in the Pac-12. The Beavers are allowing 150.5 yards on the ground per game.
Defensively, the Huskies have a big issue: Sean Mannion and the Oregon State passing game.
Beavers coach Mike Riley didn’t name Mannion his starter until kickoff of the first game. He leads the nation with 3,860 yards passing and 381 per game, with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks leads the nation with 144 yards receiving per game.
And a lot of Mannion’s yards come on screen games, so if the Huskies try to pressure Mannion pell-mell they have to do it with one eye on running backs leaking out behind them.
“That’s their system and they do a great job. Coach Riley is a tremendous offensive coach,” Sarkisian said. “They force you to defend down the field — 30, 40, 50 yards down the field. And when you put all your emphasis there, then it’s the slow screen game to the back, to the tight end, things of that nature.
“So you have to defend it all. In this conference there are good offenses every week. There are unique challenges. And this is another one.”
So regardless whether Price or Miles starts at quarterback, no matter how many more yards Sankey can gain, stopping the Beavers is the way to end the frustration – and perhaps this string of 7-win seasons, pending next week’s Apple Cup the day after Thanksgiving.
“Nobody’s more frustrated than me, I can tell you that. You can ask our players that,” Sarkisian said. “I think we have a good football team. (We’ve) lost four games this year to four top-20 teams, three of which are on the road. That’s not an excuse, because we’re good enough to go beat those teams. I know we are.
“Whether it’s a mindset, whether it’s a hurdle that we can do it once so that we can do it twice and then a third time … I know we’re capable of doing it. It’s frustrating for me, frustrating because I want these kids to have that success.
“They’re deserving of it; they work their tails off for me; they do everything we ask them to do. So for people to feel however they feel, I understand it. But believe me, if they could jump inside me and my heart and my head, nobody feels more frustrated and worse about it than me.”