By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
EUGENE, Ore. — The visitors’ postgame interview space at Autzen Stadium is one of the few crannies of Oregon sports that Ducks booster and Nike CEO Phil Knight has not dumped money into.
The concrete room with dilapidated paint just outside the locker room has all the charm of a Turkish prison cell. Standing against one of the bland walls Saturday night after the game, Keith Price charged himself as guilty.
Price led the way as the Huskies’ committed five turnovers during their 52-21 waxing by second-ranked Oregon on Saturday night.
Price was involved in three, but only at fault for two, though each crucial. He made a bad read in the first quarter which led to his second pick-six of the season. Later, he fumbled when he was caught from behind on a scramble that would have been a first down at the Oregon 34-yard line when Washington was down 28-7 in the second quarter.
Price’s second interception of the night went through DiAndre Campbell’s hands, hit him in the helmet, then was picked off at the Oregon 2-yard line. He takes the stat, but is exonerated by anyone who watched.
That leaves Price with troubling totals through five games. He has five touchdown passes and four interceptions. His completion percentage has backtracked to 59.5 percent, down from 66.9 a year ago. He’s only getting 5.6 yards per completion.
Price is trying to function at his previous high level behind a young offensive line and with his main targets from last season — Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar — gone. Another hitch in the process occurred Saturday night when tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was injured in the second quarter and did not return. Head coach Steve Sarkisian said Saturday he did not know the extent of Seferian-Jenkins’ injury.
The problems have Price searching.
“I just have to persevere and be mentally tough,” Price said. “Obviously, I haven’t been playing the way I wanted to play and it’s very humbling. I just need to go back to the basics and fundamentals of things. Three-step drop and get the ball out. Make my reads. I’m seeing the safety rotations and going back to the way I play football.”
Chris Polk’s absence to start the year was part of the problem, too. Defenses set themselves to stop Price and see what running back Bishop Sankey could do. Sankey has answered with three consecutive 100-yard-plus rushing games. His success should start sucking defenses toward the line of scrimmage, in theory opening attempts downfield for Price.
“That’s what happened last year,” Price said. “Chris kind of opened me up.”
Asked if the perceived lack of a running game early in the season has led to Price’s unexpected play, he balked.
“That’s no excuse,” Price said. “I can’t make bonehead decisions. That’s the main thing.”
There is also another, more subtle, change this season for Price. Former quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier left the staff in the offseason to join top-ranked Alabama. It was Nussmeier who worked with Price throughout his redshirt and freshman year to polish his release point. Nussmeier is a master of passing mechanics who could identify a thigh too open by an inch or a plant foot a hair out front.
Price doesn’t have him this year. Though, he does have Sarkisian, also known for his work with quarterbacks. Sarkisian thinks things will get right, but is first trying to figure out which elements — the opponents’ rush, a lack of rhythm, Price’s fervent desire to do so well — are the key detriments for his quarterback.
“I don’t know, maybe it’s all of that,” Sarkisian said. “That’s the part we have to get together with him on so he feels, not that he feels comfortable, that he feels confident in his and our ability to go play football.
“We’ll get that done.”
They need to soon.