Preseason's Over: Huskies Turn It Up For Real Season
Aug. 27, 2012
By Gregg Bell- UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Keith Pricenoticed one change immediately.
When the quarterback and his Huskies ran onto East Field Monday morning for practice, they were hoopin' and hoppin'. The hitting was more intense. The focus and preparation more detailed.
Preseason camp is wayover. The first prep week of the regular season is here.
"Oh yeah. There was a sense of urgency. Guys were moving and guys were excited," Price said after the spirited workout running through the game plan for Saturday's opener against San Diego State at CenturyLink Field (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks television, the Washington IMG College Network on radio and here on GoHuskies.com with the exclusive internet play-by-play and analysis in real time on our game chat.
"We're just excited that we don't have to bang up on each other anymore. We can get ready for an opponent."
Jesse Calliernoticed the extra juice Monday, too.
"Oh, yeah, it's more serious now."
As Steve Sarkisiansaid at the beginning of his fourth season as Washington's coach: "We like to say the volume gets turned up on game week. And I think that was definitely evident (Monday)."
There is another change to begin 2012 that is more subtle - but potentially far more impacting: Price will be running Washington's entire offensive show in this opener.
One year ago this week, he was a redshirt sophomore entering his UW debut replacing Jake Locker. And despite having made a start for the injured locker the fall before at Oregon, Price was a relative unknown.
Not just to fans or to Eastern Washington, the Huskies' foe in the 2011 opener, either.
"I think for myself calling the plays, I know who he is. I know what he does well," Sarkisian said Monday comparing then to now. "I know when he's struggling the type of things I need to get him doing to get him back.
"I know that we won't be nearly as conservative the first game around as we were last year."
Price sprained his knee for the first of three times last season on Sept. 3 in his previous opener. With Sarkisian not exactly sure how to best employ his new, gimpy quarterback over the final 2½ quarters the Huskies needed an end-zone interception from Desmond Trufant to preserve a narrow victory over EWU.
That seems like light years ago now to Price, Sarkisian and the Huskies.
With play caller and play maker increasingly in synch over the rest of the year, Price set UW records with 33 touchdown passes and a completion rate of 66.9 percent despite staying banged up. Washington went to a second consecutive bowl for the first time since 2001-02.
Now? Don't even compare Price before the 2012 opener to that quarterback prepping for last season's debut.
"I feel like Coach Sark can just about throw just about anything at me," Price said, smiling.
That depth and flexibility will come in handy Saturday night. San Diego State uses a base defense of three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs, a 3-3-5 set that Price has never before started against. The Aztecs, who Sarkisian noted were an impressive plus-12 in turnover margin last season, also try to be masters of disguise, faking blitzes and coverages and moving pass rushers around their defense to try to confuse the quarterback's audibles and protection calls.
"It's going to be fun," Price said, with his typically sunny-in-Seattle outlook. "We just have to stick to our rules. If we stick to our rules we'll be fine and we'll be able to protect anything they throw at us."
Sarkisian is employing on Saturday two others aspects of his offense he didn't have in last season's opener: Jaydon Mickens and Kendyl Taylor. After a preseason camp full of huge plays downfield by the speedy true freshmen, the Huskies have listed them as starters at wide receiver with Kasen Williamson their first depth chart of the season -- should they choose to begin in a three wide-receiver set.
"You'd never know they're freshmen," Sarkisian said of Mickens and Taylor. "They've earned this right to start and play. They've had a tremendous fall camp, big play after big play.
"Again, with freshmen we're going to have to go through growing pains. They're going to lineup wrong a couple times Saturday night. They might drop a pass they might run a wrong route.
"But we've got to be able to bring them along. Their big play potential makes us different offensively. It's something that we want to become we want to be a big play offense, one that can get yards in chunks. Those two guys provide that for us."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Tre Watson has won the starting CB job opposite Trufant. Watson is a junior walkon and native of Seattle who went to Kennedy High School and then transferred to UW from Central Washington. He sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules. Sarkisian said he's earned the job from a great preseason camp. "He just kept making plays," Sarkisian said, noting that even if Watson gets beat for a reception he has shown a "unique knack" for punching the ball free to force fumbles. ... That Week 1 depth chart also has 12 starters listed on defense. Shaq Thompson is listed as starting nickel back, if UW begins in a five defensive-back set Saturday. Sarkisian has said that is quite possible, to get the athletic and big, play-making Thompson on the field. ... As expected, Callier and Bishop Sankey are listed as co-starters at tailback. Sarkisian said each will get carries by series and by coach's feel, and that they may also line up together for some plays. ... Sarkisian said "I can assure you" that at least five true freshmen will play this season: P Korey Durkee, Thompson, Mickens, Taylor, and DE Pio Vatuvei. That number is indicative of the Huskies' improved depth in year four of Sarkisian's tenure. Two seasons ago, Washington played 16 true freshmen, tied with Florida for the nation's most.