SEATTLE — What goodwill Steve Sarkisian was granted when taking over the 0-12 Huskies football program in 2008 seems to be diminishing.
Washington’s 28-26 loss to 20th-ranked Boise State on Saturday and a fourth-quarter collapse at the Apple Cup combined to shove Washington’s record to 7-6 for the third consecutive year. The Huskies are treading water.
It was a careening season for Washington and quarterback Keith Price. The Huskies beat two top-10 teams — Stanford and Oregon State — at home, but were not competitive in games with LSU, Oregon and Arizona.
Price threw 13 interceptions, and his final one ended Washington’s last drive against Boise State with just 14 seconds remaining in the game. He misread the safety who cut underneath wide receiver Cody Bruns for an easy interception. Price finished with 14 fewer touchdown passes than in his first season as the starter and two more interceptions. Two of the more crucial ones will always be remembered: the interception in overtime of the Apple Cup against Washington State and the one on Saturday’s final drive.
A fluctuating offensive line did not help. Price was sacked 37 times, 11 more than 2011, despite often throwing the ball away. Despite the high sack total and repeatedly throwing the ball out of bounds, Price’s 60.9 completion percentage was fifth-best in Washington history. He has 54 career touchdown passes, one short of Cody Pickett’s school record.
He is still Washington’s all-time leader in completion percentage and passing efficiency.
Yet, the turnovers and decisions he made at critical times this year left him discussing his job security at the end of it.
“We have to cut the number of turnovers we had offensively this year in half,” Sarkisian said.
Price said he would “accept” if the quarterback spot was opened to competition. Derrick Brown is listed as the backup and redshirt freshmen Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist will challenge him for the starting job. Combined, the three have thrown five passes in a college game.
“Guess I’ve got to work even harder,” Price said. “Get myself right mentally. But, I’ve just got to keep going.
“Obviously, the way I’ve been preparing myself is not good enough.”
Sarkisian said the Huskies need to get back to the basics on offense, again mentioning “trust,” the way he first did after the Arizona game.
He also said Washington has a strong core of young players to turn to in order to take the next step. Leading receivers Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams will be juniors. Running back Bishop Sankey, who was the Las Vegas Bowl MVP and finished with the third-most rushing yards in a Washington season, will also be a junior.
The starting linebackers are even younger. Middle linebacker and captain John Timu, who had a career-high 15 tackles in the Las Vegas Bowl, will be a junior. Travis Feeney will be a redshirt sophomore and Shaq Thompson will be a sophomore. Just five starters from the Las Vegas Bowl — Bruns, center Drew Schaefer, defensive end Semisi Tokolahi, safety Justin Glenn and cornerback Desmond Trufant — will move on.
In addition, Washington hopes to get back injured offensive linemen Colin Tanigawa and Erik Kohler. Plus, injured running backs Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper and senior wide receiver James Johnson are expected to return.
“We’ve got a pretty good young nucleus on this team that as they continue to grow together, we’ll be pretty dang good,” Sarkisian said.
That’s a projection for next year. The Huskies will start spring practice next April, then hit fall camp in August. The opening of new Husky Stadium will be a rematch with Boise State on Aug. 31, 2013.
“I can easily be sitting here being a 9-4 football team and unfortunately we found a way not to win those games,” Sarkisian said after the Las Vegas Bowl. “I don’t know any other way but to keep working hard. We have a good group of men on this team and a good young football team as we mature and grow together, I believe we are going to win these close ones late in the ball game and we will be that nine-, 10-, 11-win team here sooner rather than later.”