By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
LAS VEGAS — When the noise inside Keith Price’s head became the loudest, the sounds nearest him quieted.
His phone buzzed with fewer postgame text messages. Strangers said hello less often when he passed. Meanwhile, Price, like the people he didn’t hear from as often anymore, searched for answers. All were trying to find an explanation for his at times disconcerting encore to a record-setting opening season.
“It was hard,” Price said. “It was hard for me, mentally, physically. Especially when you expect to perform so well and how hard I worked. It just didn’t pan out for me.
“But, it’s taught me a lot about myself. I had to really dig deep a lot of the weeks, especially when I turned the ball over late in games which really made a difference in the ballgame from winning and losing. I mean that’s just taught me so much and I appreciate it. I appreciate this season and I appreciate the struggles as well as the success.”
It’s fair to say Price was devastated at postgame media sessions during Washington’s three-game losing streak. Early turnovers against Oregon were coupled with pulverizing late-game fumbles against USC during the losing streak to swell Price’s frustration. The redshirt junior turned the ball over four times against the Trojans.
Afterward, he sat, at a loss, against a concrete wall in the bowels of CenturyLink Field. A game later, following Arizona blowing out Washington, 52-17, coach Steve Sarkisian said Price needed to trust him and the system more.
“It’s taught me a lot and I just see how I have to deal with it next year,” Price said. “Next year, I’m going to deal with some things. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I know I’m going to have handle things and this year has taught me how to handle different situations and it’s taught me about myself and my character.”
Grappling with a downturn is part of the complication when a player’s ceiling may have shown in his first season. Price set the school record for touchdown passes (33) and completion percentage (66.9) last year. His 438 passing yards in the Alamo Bowl is tied for the second-most by a Washington quarterback in any game. His 3,063 passing yards were second-most by a Washington quarterback in a season, despite the fact he threw 250 fewer pass attempts than Cody Pickett did in his record-setting 2002 season. He also set a record for passing efficiency.
This year, Price’s completion percentage is 61.8 percent, which would be fourth-best in Washington history if it holds. He set the record for touchdown passes in a game with five against Colorado. Price is two touchdowns away from tying Pickett’s career record of 55. He’s thrown 637 fewer passes than Pickett.
Yet, this season has largely been viewed as a dramatic step back. Price learned an offensive line in flux or a running back and a receiver from the prior season going to the NFL has little bearing on sports talk radio show ranting or the overall amount of criticism he receives. He talked to former Washington offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier, who is now Alabama’s offensive coordinator, weekly during the season. Price said Nussmeier, who recorded every game Price played, told him every great player goes through down points.
“He played the position at a very high level and his expectations were high, just like mine,” Price said. “I just want to be great, and he knows it. He’s seen my frustration.”
Which leaves Price with one game prior to the offseason to sweeten the taste in his mouth.
“I wouldn’t change this year for anything,” Price said. “Not even the Heisman Trophy because it’s bettered me as a person.”
That’s at least one thought he’s been able to settle on.