Keith Price: `I am going to bounce back.'
Nov. 10, 2011
UW Weekly Notes
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - It is a measure of how white-hot the Huskies' quarterback was over the first half of his initial season as the starter that people are now asking following two, cooler games: What's wrong with Keith Price?
Nothing another one of his smiles - not to mention some patience and some pass protection - can't fix as he leads the Huskies (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) into Saturday's 12:45 p.m. game at 18th-ranked USC (7-2, 4-2).
"I think I've had too much emotion. I've just got to get back to just having fun. And just playin'," the usually unflappable, fun-loving Price said this week -- with a smile, of course. "Stop worrying about everything that's happening around me, and focus on what I need to do each and every snap.
"I can't control what everybody else is doing. I just need to settle down - so everybody else can settle down."
Since completing 21 of 28 passes with four touchdowns early last month against Colorado, leaving him atop the nation's leaders in touchdown passes with 21 (against just four interceptions), Price has four scoring passes in the last three games combined. He's thrown six interceptions in those three games, two of them losses.
He has been sacked 10 times in the last three games, including a season-high six times last week while the Huskies managed a season-low 17 points in a loss to No. 6 Oregon.
Coach Steve Sarkisian has opened competitions for jobs across his offensive line this week, and hinted after Thursday night's practice the lineup may change Saturday.
But Price hints those sacks and his decrease in productivity is not solely the line's fault.
"I just haven't been checking the ball down, because I didn't feel I've been needing to. But now we are playing against good teams and they are covering the deep guys," Price said. "So I've just got to get used to checking the ball down when things are not there."
Of course, Price is the polar opposite of terrible.
He is tied for eighth in the country with 25 touchdown passes - and tied with Brock Huard with second-most in any year in the 120-season history of UW football. He is three behind Cody Pickett's school record from 2001.
If Price maintains his current pass efficiency rating of 156 over the final four games - at USC, at Oregon State next week, versus Washington State Nov. 26 and in the bowl game the Huskies for which the Huskies have already qualified - he will break Huard's school record from 1997 of 153.8. And with a completion rate of 66.8 percent this season, he is far ahead of Steve Pelluer's UW record of 65 percent from 1983.
All that, despite a sprained knee in the opener Sept. 3, another sprained knee two weeks later at Nebraska, then a sprained ankle at Utah two weeks after that - and now a bruised left, non-throwing shoulder last week that he says is sore but no big whoop.
His excellence in his first season replacing Jake Locker is why Price's game against Oregon last week - 16 for 30, 277 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions - was so remarkable, in the opposite sense. He looked anxious while over-striding on throws, and balls often sailed high incomplete or as interceptions.
"Keith operates extremely well within the system. He's grown up in the system since the day he stepped into college," Sarkisian said of the quarterback from St. John Bosco High in the Los Angeles suburb of Bellflower, one that he re-recruited with a phone call the day he took the UW job in January 2009. "He understands the nuances of the system, and that's why he's been so successful.
"I think that's also one of the reasons why he didn't play one of his better games (last) Saturday night, because he got away from those nuances of the system and tried a little too hard. So we have to get back to that, and get back to that quickly."
As in this Saturday, in front of what promises to be another swarm of Price's friends and family. Keith's Korner, as it were, has been showing up at games home and away wearing purple Huskies T-shirts with their man's jersey number 17 and "The Price is RIGHT" printed on them.
Price is headed back to the site of his first college touchdown pass. Last Oct. 2 at the Coliseum, he entered as a raw, redshirt freshman in his backyard after Locker got knocked woozy and momentarily out of the game early in the fourth quarter. Cold off the bench on first and goal, Price threw a 1-yard touchdown pass out of shotgun formation. It proved to be key to the Huskies' last-play, 32-31 victory over USC - the second time in two seasons Washington beat the Trojans with a last-second field goal.
It was his first time ever at a game in the Coliseum, even though the fabled stadium is just a couple miles north of his home in Compton.
"Oh, that was fun," Price said. "My first touchdown pass came back at home. So I had a ball."
Sarkisian now says that moment helped define Price's 2011 debut season as UW's starter. And it was somewhat by design.
"First thing I remember, I didn't want to put him under center. I think so many times you put in a new quarterback, one of the biggest issues is getting the snap from center," Sarkisian said. "So the first thought is let's put him in the `gun because that's the easiest exchange to take for a quarterback. "I said, `Hey do you feel good about this?' And he said, `Sure coach!' -- smiling like he always does. And he went in and threw a touchdown pass." Now Price returns to L.A. He says "I just need to settle down, especially in big games," as this one against another ranked team is. Plus, he says "I can't even imagine" how many people he will have in the Coliseum this time now that he is the Huskies' starting quarterback instead of an unexpected fill-in. Yet Price doesn't think his latest return to Los Angeles will be extra special. "It's nice to play at home, but it's not like I can go home and hang out with all my friends," he said. "It's just going to be another game. We are just going to treat it like another game, and hopefully bring a win back home. "Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I am going to bounce back. I'm not worried about that. I've just got to get back to ... completions. Easy completions."
QUICK HITS: This will be the third time Price has started against USC quarterback Matt Barkley. The first two were in Price's junior and senior seasons at St. John Bosco, when Barkley was in the same league as an all-everything, four-year starter at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana. How'd Price fare against Barkley in those other two meetings? "Oh, we lost," Price said, chuckling. ... Sarkisian said WR James Johnson, third on the team with 26 catches, three for touchdowns, has a chance to play Saturday in a limited role. Johnson was out last week with a sprained ankle. ... Asked how good the Huskies' practice week was following the disappointing loss to Oregon, Sarkisian said: "It was an intense week. I always find out what good is on Saturday."