SEATTLE — Doubt followed quarterback Keith Price everywhere last season as a junior at Washington. Doubt from fans. Doubt in his own mind, trusting his teammates and himself.
That’s all gone now, replaced by confidence, swagger and a new toughness Price showed last Saturday in nearly leading the Huskies to an upset of No. 5 Stanford.
True to his personality, Price is deflecting the praise especially since it came in a 31-28 loss to the Cardinal. But should he be able to pull off the unlikely this Saturday and lead No. 16 Washington to an upset of No. 2 Oregon, he’d better be ready for a new heap of accolades.
Nine years of Washington (4-1, 1-1 Pacific-12 Conference) getting hammered by its neighbors to the south has built up and Saturday appears the Huskies best chance to finally end the losing streak to the Ducks
“It would be a huge win,” Price said. “We haven’t beat them in nine straight years. The team, we haven’t really talked anything about it. We understand the task at hand. It’s going to take our best effort to win.”
Price’s performance at Stanford late last Saturday night drew acclaim even though it came in a losing effort. Price threw for 350 yards, completing 33 of 48 passes and stood in against one of the most powerful pass rushes in college football. He took five jarring sacks, a number of other cringe-worthy hits and got up every time giving the Huskies a chance in the end.
His only mistake was a potential touchdown that was tipped on a tremendous play by Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy and intercepted late in the fourth quarter. The 350 yards passing were a career high for the regular season, topped only by his dynamic run and pass performance in the 2011 Alamo Bowl against Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and Baylor.
“It was a good performance. I left a lot of throws out there that could probably change the outcome of the game,” Price said. “So I have to do a better job at making the easy ones, making the ones the defense is giving to me. So hopefully I’ll do a better job this week.”
That bowl game was Price’s best night. He threw for 438 yards and four touchdowns then added another 39 yards and three running scores in the Huskies wild 67-56 loss that capped Price’s sophomore season. But even Washington coach Steve Sarkisian noted this week that game was more about fun. It was the grit Price showed last week against Stanford that made this performance standout more.
“Stanford’s front seven, that’s an NFL front. They got after him, they hit him, and I just thought he showed a great deal of toughness,” Sarkisian said. “The Alamo Bowl, he had some fun plays in there, he was running around, throwing the ball all over the place. But the toughness he exuded Saturday was I think the biggest difference there in those two games. I think he was the focal point in both games, but that game Saturday, some of the shots he took, for him to continue to get back up to throw the football, to make really critical throws on third downs in the second half, I just thought was tremendous.”
He came away with a sore thumb, but he kept playing and it certainly won’t keep him out Saturday.
Price has taken to Washington’s new up-tempo style perfectly. The calls and reads have become simpler because defenses have less time to make adjustments and his throws have for the most part been on target using a deeper corps of playmakers around him. Price is completing 71.2 percent of his passes and Washington has recorded three of the six best offensive performances since 1996 in terms of total yardage in the first five weeks of this season.
The Huskies’ offense now mirrors some of what Oregon does both in terms of speed and scheme. If both offenses click on Saturday, it could make for a dizzying amount of plays and offensive yardage. The question for Price and the Huskies is can they keep up if a shootout with the Ducks develops?
“It’ll be a good test for both teams and probably pretty exciting for the fans who are watching it,” Sarkisian said.