Early Errors Doom Huskies in 24-14 Loss to USC
Oct. 13, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Keith Price pounded the turf with his right hand. He angrily ripped his chin strap off the right side of his helmet. He stood with his hands on his hips on the sideline, shaking his head.
Afterward, after the Huskies' quarterback had committed four turnovers, he sat in a position that fit his mood: Against the wall.
"Mentally, it's just rough, man, being in a game like this, knowing that you had the opportunity to win the game - and, you know, I mess it up. On several occasions," UW's record holder for touchdown passes and pass efficiency from last season said Saturday night.
"I'll grow from this. I haven't really had to deal with stuff like this before."
Price completed 16 consecutive passes and 20 of 28 overall despite being sacked five times and besieged by pass rushers all night. Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins each caught a scoring throw. But Price had two interceptions and two fumbles, UW had a punt blocked for a USC touchdown and the Huskies were in 24-7 hole early in what became a frustrating, 24-14 loss before 66,202 howling fans at CenturyLink Field.
Just as he did last week at No. 2 Oregon, Price ran for his life most of the night and tried to do it all himself behind an offensive line with four first-year starters. But he came up short late for Washington (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12).
USC (5-1, 3-1) was UW's fourth top-11 opponent in the last five weeks.
"I mean, it's evident I can't turn the ball over against good teams. I just can't. Against good teams it will come back and bite you in the butt," said Price, who has seven turnovers in the last two games -- and has set personal highs in self-flogging and culpability.
He has seven touchdown passes and six interceptions through six games. Last season through six games, he had 21 TD throws - on his way to 33 - and four interceptions.
"You know, you fumble, you get sacked five times - he doesn't feel very good right now," said coach Steve Sarkisian, who dropped to 2-2 against his former Trojans since arriving at UW in 2009. "We have to get him so he doesn't try too hard where he feels like he has to make a play and ends up turning the ball over."
Washington's remade and resurgent defense, using five defensive backs for much of the game, gave up a 57-yard run by Silas Redd on USC's first offensive play. Three defenders had Redd trapped behind the line, but he cut back right past them all.
But then it controlled the game. Redd gained just 98 yards on his other 21 carries, far below his average of 5.5 yards per rush coming in. The Huskies held USC to a field goal after first and goal from the 9 following Redd's long run.
Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Marcus Peters, making his first career start, held national receiver-of-the-year candidates Robert Woods and Marqise Lee to seven combined catches - just two of them by Lee. USC had 233 yards and 10 first downs in the first half but just 138 yards, five first downs and no points after halftime.
Washington did not allow an offensive touchdown over the final 42 minutes.
"We played the second half very strong," linebacker John Timu said, "but it was a little too late then."
Ultimately. But not immediately.
With Trojans hitting him in the chest and stomach roughly every other time he threw, Price completed 16 passes in a row into the middle of the third quarter. He then stood in the pocket and stared into a thudding, helmet-to-chest blow from charging Trojans defensive tackle George Uko long enough for Seferian-Jenkins to break free down the middle. The big tight end caught Price's perfect, gutsy throw in stride at the 10 and jogged in for a 29-yard score. That had the Huskies within 24-14 entering the final quarter.
After another stop by the defense, UW moved from its 46 to the USC 15 behind Bishop Sankey and the running game. On third and 1, Price hurried the offense to the line, rolled left and completed a 9-yard pass to fullback Jonathan Amosa to the 6. Sankey ran it to the 3.
The largest crowd in the Huskies' six games at CenturyLink Field was roaring. USC looked stunned. Everything was going UW's way before second and goal when Price ran at USC's defensive end of a read-option play.
With Sankey trailing behind him, Price tried to get safety Jawanza Starling out of position with a ball fake at the line. Starling stayed in front of the quarterback and reached for the ball instead, knocking it free. USC's safety recovered the fumble at the 3 with 11 minutes left.
UW got no closer to scoring. Or winning.
Price later questioned whether he should have pitched the ball to Sankey, citing it as another example of trying to do too much.
Yet the Huskies' defense kept charging. Josh Shirley sacked Matt Barkley on fourth and 5 from the UW 27, keeping the lead at 10 and giving the Huskies back the ball with 5:26 left.
Price was then sacked. Then on fourth and 8, Seferian-Jenkins drifted too far outside instead of inside on his curl route, in front of intended receiver Cody Bruns. The 6-foot-6 tight end leaped and deflected the pass into the arms of USC's diving Josh Shaw at midfield for an interception with 4:13 remaining.
The defense forced USC to go three and out, and UW got the ball back with 3:21 to go. Price scrambled twice for first downs. But on the end of his second run, Trojans linebacker Dion Bailey whacked him from the ball side. Price's second lost fumble of the final quarter ended UW's final hopes.
"Oh, man, they did great," Price said of his defense. "We just didn't execute. I just didn't execute."
Actually, Price was gritty as much as he was mistake prone. At halftime, UW moved James Atoe from right tackle to guard and put Mike Criste at right tackle to try to get better protection for Price. Yet each time he threw off anything but one-step drops, Price kept getting nailed or chased.
"We want to throw it down the field," Sarkisian said, "but we're also trying to protect Keith the best we can."
Price's first interception, a great, diving play by Bailey at the UW 34, led to an 11-yard run by Redd. That put Washington in a 10-0 hole just 4:31 into the game.
The Huskies answered the early barrage with some neat improvisation by Price that made him briefly look and feel like it was 2011 again. The quarterback raced forward to escape a sack, was hit and then while falling flipped the ball forward to Sankey, who was standing beside him. Sankey ran 15 yards to set up the coolest-looking UW play of the first half, a 17-yard strike Price lofted into the end zone that Kasen Williams leaped and caught inside the sideline boundary for a touchdown.
Keith Price was "Teeth" Price again on the sideline, smiling over having the Huskies within 10-7 after one, eventful quarter.
Yet USC's pass rush kept swarming Price. He completed 10 consecutive passes after the interception into halftime, but was also sacked three times, hit seven times and pressured nine more times in the dizzying first half. The Huskies' offense went three plays and out four consecutive times from the second into the third periods.
Conversely, UW could not get near Barkley. USC's quarterback had time to look at third- and fourth-option receivers in the decisive first half. His 17-yard scoring throw to tight end Xavier Grimble came while comfortable without pressure, and it put UW back down by 10.
Then Travis' Coons' harrowing first half of barely getting off punts in time turned disastrous. The Trojans' Anthony Brown blocked Coons' punt in the middle of the second quarter and returned it 21 yards to make it 24-7 USC.
UW's final mistake of the regretful half came when it appeared to be getting the ball back with 57 seconds left, but DiAndre Campbell ran into USC's punter. The Trojans took the gift first down by penalty and ran out the clock to keep their lead at 17 into the third quarter.
"We didn't respond great to the first half of the game. We need to come out with a better sense of urgency," Sarkisian said, reiterating what he told his players after the game.
"Makes it hard to win."
The Huskies emerge from their gauntlet of top-11 opponents - LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC - at .500 overall. They are two games behind Oregon and eighth-ranked Oregon State for the lead in the Pac-12 North.
The path ahead is also treacherous. Next up is high-powered Arizona, which is coming off a bye, Saturday night in Tucson (7 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks television). Then Oregon State (5-0, 3-0) comes to Seattle.
"We are frustrated," Williams said. "I really don't feel like we are a 3-3 team. I feel we are a way better team than that.
"But like Coach Sark told us, we can't spot teams 21 points and expect to win the game."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Desmond Trufant was outstanding against Woods and Lee. In the fourth quarter he leaped with Woods and batted away what would have been a touchdown pass in the end zone. Then he ended that USC drive by blocking a field goal, keeping UW down by 10. Lee had caught at least eight balls in nine consecutive games. "Two of the best receivers in the country. I knew it was a great challenge," he said. "And I was up to it." ... Seferian-Jenkins' team-high five receptions - four after halftime - leave him with 70 in his 19-game career. That's already fourth all-time among UW tight ends. Next up is Rod Jones (81). ... DT Josh Banks, a junior-college transfer, made his first start at had four tackles.