By Rich Myhre and Scott M. Johnson Herald Writers
SEATTLE — The question is, how much was University of Washington quarterback Keith Price responsible for the team’s 24-14 loss to USC on Saturday?
For his part, Price was pointing the finger of blame largely at himself.
Other Huskies were quick to defend their teammate.
The real answer, of course, is somewhere in the middle. At his best, Price gave the Huskies a chance to win. He finished the game 20-for-28 for 198 yards, and in one stretch from the mid-first quarter to late in the third quarter he completed 16 consecutive passes. He had two touchdown passes — the 41st and 42nd of his UW career — to wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins that were perfectly thrown deep routes.
But Price also committed four turnovers. One of the interceptions was definitely not his fault — in the fourth quarter, Price passed to wide receiver Cody Bruns, but Sefarian-Jenkins reached for the ball and deflected it to USC safety Josh Shaw — but two fourth-quarter fumbles came when Price simply did not lock up the football.
“I just have to play better,” said a disconsolate Price. “I keep saying that week in and week out, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s working for me right now.
“I feel OK physically, but mentally it’s rough dealing with something like this. Knowing that we had an opportunity (to win), and I mess it up on several occasions. … I can’t turn the ball over. I just can’t.”
Sefarian-Jenkins, though, took full responsibility for the fourth-quarter interception.
“I came on a little curl route and I slid out when I should’ve slid in,” he said. “I tipped the ball up and they intercepted it, so that one’s on me.
“Keith Price is the leader of our team and we’re going to stand behind him,” Sefarian-Jenkins added. In the season’s remaining six games, “he’s going to do a great job.”
“I thought (Price) fought his tail off,” said UW head coach Steve Sarkisian. “He competed at a real high level. … We just have to continue to get better around him so he doesn’t try too hard to feel like he has to make (every) play.”
The irony is that Price won the statistical battle with USC quarterback Matt Barkley, a Heisman Trophy candidate. Barkley was 10-for-20 with one TD and one interception.
“I felt like we were passing the ball pretty well,” Price said. “We were getting in a rhythm and guys were starting to get some confidence. But the fumbles and interceptions, they just can’t happen. And I’ll shoulder that. I need to do a better job with the ball.”
Peters starts, shines
Redshirt freshman cornerback Marcus Peters probably could have gotten an easier assignment in his first career start than being asked to cover the nation’s top receiving tandem.
But Peters was happy to be in the lineup Saturday, and he certainly didn’t look overwhelmed.
After being “shocked” by his promotion to the first team earlier this week, Peters stepped in for Tre Watson and turned in a memorable performance while covering USC stars Robert Woods and/or Marquise Lee throughout the afternoon.
“I was pretty excited, but I just tried to keep it down,” Peters said of his first start as a Husky. “… I tried to stay level-headed for the team.”
Peters broke up a pass in the end zone on USC’s opening drive, then added a first-quarter interception when he broke on a ball intended for Nelson Agholor on the sideline. On the Trojans’ next offensive snap, Peters stuffed running back Silas Redd before Woods beat him for a 19-yard completion on the following play.
“Without looking at the tape, my initial reaction is that he did a good job,” UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said of Peters, a 5-foot-11 cornerback from Oakland. “He had the big pick. He tackled well. And he played with much more discipline, which is something we’ve been working on with him.”
When asked what led to the lineup change that left Peters starting in Watson’s place, Wilcox said: “He earned it.”
Late in the first half, USC’s offense was flagged for a dead-ball personal foul penalty. After conferring with his fellow officials, referee Jack Folliard announced on his stadium microphone that the penalty was on USC’s No. 7.
It was shocking, to say the least, since No. 7 is quarterback Matt Barkley, who is known for his gentlemanly demeanor.
Moments later, Folliard corrected himself, assigning the penalty to USC’s No. 2, wide receiver Robert Woods.
Sarkisian juggled his offensive line in the second half, moving James Atoe from right tackle to right guard in place of Shane Brostek, and putting Mike Criste at right tackle. Brostek committed two first-half penalties (false start and holding), and seemed to struggle with his blocking assignments.
“I was just trying to block (the Trojans),” Sarkisian said. “I was trying to protect the quarterback. We felt like moving Atoe inside and bringing in Mike at right tackle, we had a little bigger body (Atoe is 6-6, 335) on the inside to try to wad it up a bit more. We thought that could’ve been helpful for us.”
Washington’s offensive line is already missing four top players with injuries, “and now it’s back to the drawing board as far as who’s in (the lineup) and what we’re doing to move the football,” Sarkisian said.
USC put pressure on UW punter Travis Coons on his first three punts, and with each one the Trojans seemed to get closer to a block.
The Trojans finally blocked the fourth punt, resulting in a touchdown and a 24-7 lead late in the second quarter. The Huskies had three blockers in the backfield for Coons, but the Trojans had one too many players rushing the kicker.
It was, Sarkisian said, “a breakdown in the front line. It’s something we practice every day, so we just didn’t execute very well.