Sarkisian's Message on Price: Chicken Littles, Go Away
Oct. 15, 2012
SEATTLE - In the last couple days, Steve Sarkisian has been studying.
He's compared Keith Price's statistics against Stanford, Oregon and USC during his record-setting 2011 to his quarterback's three games the past three weeks against the Cardinal, Ducks and Trojans - the best of the Pac-12.
The Huskies coach's conclusion: Chicken Littles, go away.
Last season Price completed 67.8 percent of his passes against those three teams, for 445 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He was sacked 15 times in those games. UW lost all three by a combined 139-55.
This season against Stanford, Oregon and USC - behind a line with four first-year starters -- he completed 60.4 percent of his throws for 520 yards with three touchdowns, five interceptions and three lost fumbles. He was sacked nine times. The Huskies went 1-2 and were outscored 86-52 in those three tests.
"They are very comparable," Sarkisian said of the quarterbacks numbers on Monday, five days before Washington (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) plays at rested, high-octane Arizona (3-3, 0-3).
"So I'm not nearly as concerned that the sky is falling on No. 17. I think he is going to be OK the second half of the season."
The coach chuckled at how obvious the trend was for Price in those six marquee games the last two seasons.
"What's consistent ... they got pressure on Keith," Sarkisian said. "Those teams did a good job of pressuring us and pressuring Keith, got him out of his comfort zone. And then the score kind of got away from us in some of those games. That made it difficult on Keith.
"I believe in our system. I believe in our coaches. I believe in Keith Price. And we'll be OK. We'll play pretty well Saturday."
The more progressive and important trend Sarkisian noticed: Price has evolved from being merely a playmaker to being a leader.
And not a part-time one, either. The quarterback is the undeniable captain of not only the offense but the entire Huskies' team -- in good times and in bad.
The latest example came in the emotional moments following last Saturday's 24-14 loss to No. 11 USC. Washington had chances throughout the second half to get within 24-21 and perhaps rally for a season-altering win. But Price's four turnovers and a blocked punt the Trojans returned for a touchdown doomed UW.
Afterward, Price heaped all the blame for the loss upon himself, saying "I messed it up."
And Sarkisian approved.
"I love that about him," the coach said Monday. "I think that's a sign of a great teammate, a great leader, of a quarterback that has high demands of himself but also knows and is understanding of the position that he's in.
"Some of that, of what he gives himself, is probably warranted. And some of it isn't. But at the end of the day he's the guy that's going to take the blame when things don't go great and he's going to be the guy that gives the praise to others when things go well."
Price has seven touchdown passes and six interceptions through six games.
Last season through six games, he had 21 TD throws - on his way to the record-setting 33 - and four interceptions.
He doesn't need statistical comparisons, fans or film for him to realize the better he protects the ball, the more likely his Huskies will be better than .500 over the final six games of the regular season.
"I just have to keep playing better. I say that every week - and it's just not happening for me," Price said following the USC game, in which he completed 16 consecutive passes despite getting either chased or hit or both on almost every throw.
"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.
"I'll grow from this. I haven't really had to deal with stuff like this before." He gave himself the same flogging the previous Saturday after he committed three turnovers at second-ranked Oregon.
Sarkisian is not concerned about Price being so hard on himself.
To the coach, it's part of Price's authenticity.
"He's a confident kid," Sarkisian said. "He did a lot of really good stuff the other night. It's unfortunate some of the plays that standout in all of our minds are the glaring mistakes, but he did a lot of really good stuff for us that gave us a chance in that game to be successful.
"Now the ball security issue when he's running with the football is something that has to be addressed, without a doubt."
Sarkisian loves Price's guts, his unpredictability, and his creativity and resolve to make plays when it appears there are none to be made. He calls it the QB's "stinger."
"I don't want to take his stinger from him, because that is part of his game and that's the part we've all grown to love with Keith. But the ball security issue when contact is near has to be addressed," the coach said.
"I think Keith is on the right path to get back to playing the type of football he's capable of playing and we're capable of playing around him and I think he's only going to get better this Saturday at Arizona."
Price is already there as Washington's undisputed leader - especially in defeat.
"It's not as if he's pointing the finger," Sarkisian said. "It's not as if he's down in the dumps and not believing in himself. He knows he's a good football player.
"And we're going to be a good offensive football team -- sooner than later."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Two weeks after facing Oregon's go-go Ducks, pace and conditioning are again the themes for UW's defense. New Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has the Wildcats' offense playing at a break-neck pace. "They both operate at extremely high tempos," Sarkisian said. "Arizona, really, I think the goal is to run about 100 plays a game, which, if you look at it, USC ran 60 plays last week, we ran 58. So imagine playing two games, (that's) what it's like when you play Arizona. ... I don't know if they're as multiple as Oregon, but they might even be faster in how many reps they try to get within a game." ... Keep an eye on the first quarter Saturday in Tucson. Sarkisian stressed playing with more urgency from the opening kickoff during a team meeting after USC. "Yeah, we talked about that (Sunday) as a team: Why, why, oh why do we have to spot our opponents 21 two weeks ago and 10 last week," the coach said. "Really early on in those games, in my opinion ... maybe we're a bit too emotional. Maybe we're concerned about some things outside of us and not really focused on the task at hand. And that's that play." ... The conference announced the Oct. 27 home game with Oregon State will kick off at 7:15 p.m. and be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.