Sark, Price, Huskies Have Been Here Before
Oct. 22, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - As Steve Sarkisian put it curiously yet accurately: "Unfortunately - but fortunately - we've been here before."
The Huskies (3-4, 1-3 Pac-12) have now lost at least three consecutive games in each of the coach's four seasons at UW. They lost four in a row beginning in October 2009, three consecutive starting in late October 2010 and three straight last November.
Their record in the games immediately following those skids: 7-1, including 1-1 in bowls.
So yes, Sark and his Dawgs have been here before.
"I think we've got a group of people here that believe that we can get make changes in a week's span that are capable enough of winning this football game," Sarkisian said Monday, two days after a stunning, 52-17 loss at Arizona - and five days before No. 7 Oregon State (6-0, 4-0) comes to CenturyLink Field.
Saturday's 7:15 p.m. kickoff will mark the first time in Washington football history it has played five teams ranked in The Associated Press top 11 over any seven-week span.
"It's a great challenge, but one we'll take on head on like we always do," Sarkisian said.
"We've responded (before). And I believe we'll respond again."
In those other skids, though, UW didn't have quarterback with as bruised a psyche as it has now with Keith Price.
The record-setting passer in 2011 has committed 10 turnovers in the last three games. Last Saturday night outside the locker room at Arizona Stadium, following Washington's third consecutive loss, the thoughtful, frustrated Price sighed. He then rubbed his face and said: "Man, I prepare so hard. It's unfortunate."
Monday, Sarkisian squashed one item into a non-issue with a single, succinct sentence.
Asked if he'd consider a change at quarterback the coach said: "That's a crazy thought. Keith Price is our quarterback."
One he still thinks is trying to do too much.
"He's trying really hard, you know? He's an ultra-competitive kid. And I really appreciate that about him," Sarkisian said. "He wants to be so right ... in the end, as human beings, the person you trust the most is yourself.
"I think at times he's trying to just rely on him right now to figure it out."
Mentor and pupil have spent much time talking the last three weeks, including in the aftermath of two interceptions and another lost fumble Saturday. Price's fumble came one play after UW forced an Arizona turnover while down only 31-17 early in the third quarter.
Price didn't send a receiver in motion, making it harder than it should have been to discern Arizona's pass coverage on the play. He and the line had the wrong protection called, leading to immediate pressure up the middle. When Price rolled left he waited for Kasen Williams to break free down the sidelines. He waited too long, getting hit from the side and losing his fourth fumble in three games.
Price said after the game he should have thrown the ball away - as he did often while sacked four times and pressured more than that by Arizona.
"My point to him is I wouldn't do anything ever to put him in a situation where I think he wouldn't be successful in being," Sarkisian said. "So my goal is that he believes in me and in my ability to prepare him, to put together a game plan and to call plays that he can execute and execute at a high level. And if they don't work I'll be the first to tell him that, `Hey, Keith, that's my fault.'
"I just want him to believe in me as much as he's believing in himself."
Sarkisian drew a parallel to what Price is going through now to the middle of the 2011 season, what became one of the best years a UW quarterback has ever had.
In a three-game stretch against Stanford, Arizona and USC beginning a year ago Monday Price completed 63 percent of his throws with four touchdowns and six interceptions while getting sacked 10 total times.
In his last three games this season - No. 2 Oregon, 11th-ranked USC and Arizona - Price has completed 61 percent of his throws with three touchdowns and six interceptions while again getting sacked 10 times.
"I think we went through a run about the midpoint of last season that it wasn't great, either, you know," Sarkisian said. "Yet we found a way to re-energize it and close out the season really well."
Price was injured and did not play at Oregon State last November following his personal, three-game slide. He returned to shine in the Apple Cup - and then outplay Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in a seven-touchdown night against Baylor in December's Alamo Bowl.
He had then what he doesn't have now: A healthy, proven line blocking for him plus multiple proven, senior receivers (then Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar) to deftly break off improvisational routes on the many times Price scrambles to extend plays. Senior wide out James Johnson has yet to play this season after a wrist and arm injury in August.
"I think we've dealt with some things on our roster this year that could have potentially started that trust to diminish in what's going on around him," Sarkisian said. "But I believe in the way I coach that position. I believe in Keith's ability to play that position. And we'll get it back.
"I just want to get it back sooner rather than later."
The record-setting passer at Brigham Young in the 1990s says a lack of trust in the play call translates into Price being late throwing to receivers, so receivers go from open to covered and pass rushers get to Price when they shouldn't. Another effect: Throws can have less "zip and velocity and conviction" on them.
"When you add all that up, that's not great," Sarkisian said. "So I'd like to think we can get a game plan together this week for Keith, one that he believes in, that allows him to do the things that he does really, really well -- as well as the other 10 players that are on the field with him. That gives us a team the best chance to win.
"The greatest quarterbacks have all gone through it sometimes. And the best ones have found a way out of it. And I believe Keith will, because he's a really good player."
Of course, Price is but one of 22 starters on offense and defense.
The run defense is last in the Pac-12 allowing 196 yards on the ground per game. The defense in general is allowing 52 points in two of the last three games after throttling rugged Stanford. And there are the continuing changes along an offensive line that has four first-year starters.
But most of all Sarkisian is working on the mental side of his guys.
"I think these moments for a football team are not only season-changing experience, but they are program-changing experiences and life-changing experiences for the individuals involved," he said.
He stressed to his players in a team meeting Sunday night the need to "lock arms" and rely on each other.
"When you have a disappointing loss like that, like we had at Arizona, it's one that truly tests your character and your resolve -- not only individually but collectively as a team," he said. "We're being tested. We talked at great length about that (Sunday) night.
"I think we're in a good place. I feel like when we met with the team last night it was a really good team meeting. I felt great about it coming home.
"Walking out of the meeting I actually texted my wife `We just had an awesome team meeting.'"