SEATTLE — The crowning moment of Thursday night’s upset of eighth-ranked Stanford came after the final points had been scored, and before the stands spilled onto the field for another late-night celebration at CenturyLink Field.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, University of Washington quarterback Keith Price took a knee, then stood and wrapped his arms around senior center Drew Schaefer. The two UW captains shared a moment that cut deeper than a nationally-televised upset.
Just two hours earlier, Schaefer was on one knee, while Price sat on the bench with smoke coming out of his ears. They both had a serious problem in that UW’s young offensive linemen were struggling badly to keep the Stanford D-line off Price. The unflappable quarterback was having a difficult time controlling his emotions throughout the first half, and on at least two occasions he was seen snapping at linemen as he came off the field.
And so Schaefer knelt down beside him and shared in his misery.
“Drew was a tad bit frustrated (also),” Price said after the 17-13 win over Stanford on Thursday night. “He was trying to make all our calls and get all our offensive line on the same page. Obviously, he doesn’t like seeing me get hit. He was definitely trying to keep me up.”
For most of Thursday night’s nationally-televised game, UW’s two offensive leaders looked like they could use a hug. The only two offensive starters with more than a full year of playing experience, Price and Schaefer were beginning to see the 2012 season slip from their fingers. Injuries had ravaged the Huskies’ offensive line, had stripped UW of its top tailback and had limited two of the team’s top three wide receivers, and a loss to Stanford would have left Washington with a 2-2 record with Oregon and USC next up on the schedule.
Schaefer’s senior season and what was once supposed to be Price’s run toward Heisman Trophy contention were on the brink of disaster.
UW’s young offensive line continued to spring leaks throughout the night, and Price continued to take shots. But he didn’t let his frustration boil over, and the young line rewarded him with just enough openings for the Huskies to pull off an unlikely win.
“Our guys just persevered,” Price said afterward, “and I’m just so proud of them.”
Since the end of last season, four linemen who were projected starters have been injured — Colin Porter has quit the game because of recurring shoulder problems, while guard Colin Tanigawa will miss the rest of this season due to what is believed to be a knee injury. The unit that UW rolled out Thursday night included Schaefer and four freshmen and sophomores that had a combined six career starts heading into the game.
The inexperience showed from the first snap, with Price running for his life and desperately throwing the ball toward the UW bench more often than he would have liked.
After one throwaway under pressure, Price was helped up by right tackle James Atoe and immediately shouted at the sophomore lineman. After a sack and another throwaway ended that drive, Price stormed off the field toward the sideline.
He couldn’t hide his frustration, and Price said as much after the game.
“There’s definitely a frustration when you’re getting hit a lot,” Price admitted. “A lot of (passes), I didn’t even see; I’m on the ground before I could even see. I told them: ‘C’mon, man, we’ve got to take pride. I’m out here battling; battle with me. Just follow my lead.’ That’s what I told them, and, man, they did a great job.”
What Price wasn’t going to allow to happen was to let the frustration affect his play. That was the case 10 days earlier, when offensive line problems sent Price into a tailspin during a 41-3 loss to LSU.
“LSU was kind of a good test for us,” Price said after Thursday’s win. “We weren’t ready for the big stage yet. I promised myself I wasn’t going to embarrass myself on national television again. A lot of guys probably didn’t have respect for me.”
Schaefer never lost respect for Price, and in the end UW’s two offensive leaders were able to celebrate with a well-deserved hug.
“He told me, ‘Congratulations, and thanks for keeping battling,’” Price said of that moment as the final seconds ticked off the clock. “Drew’s definitely a leader on our team. He just told me he’s proud of me.”