CORVALLIS, Ore. — Those following tonight’s game here between Washington and Oregon State likely will find out the identity of the Huskies’ starting quarterback just prior to kickoff.
And no sooner.
Not until pregame warmups will it be apparent whom coach Steve Sarkisian chose as UW’s signal-caller after a week of mostly rest for senior Keith Price, and starter-preparation for redshirt freshman Cyler Miles.
The decision has been made. Sarkisian just isn’t saying what it is.
“I know,” Sarkisian said during his weekly Friday appearance on Sports Radio KJR. “But I can’t tell you that.”
So the mystery remains. Will Price gut through the shoulder injury that prevented him from throwing a pass in practice until Thursday? Or will Miles, the promising young backup, make his first career start?
Kickoff will bring resolution. But this much is certain: regardless of who takes snaps and throws passes for the Huskies tonight at Reser Stadium, this isn’t a game UW can afford to lose.
Of course, the same thing has been written about a handful of games already this season. The problem for the Huskies (6-4, 3-4 in the Pacific-12 Conference) is that they’ve lost most of those next-step contests, and now find themselves in need of victory to preserve their chance to win eight games during the regular season.
A season with at least eight victories hasn’t happened since 2001, when Rick Neuheisel coached the Huskies to nine and an appearance in the Holiday Bowl.
Such a prestigious postseason destination as the Holiday Bowl is already out of the question for this UW team. But the Huskies insist there is plenty left to play for, including an opportunity to earn their first Pac-12 road victory this season and their first win at Reser since 2003.
“I guess none of that really matters right now, besides (the fact) this is the most important game of the year,” junior defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha said. “Per week, that’s how we’ve got to treat it, and nothing else can matter.”
A victory would help quiet criticism that Sarkisian’s teams can’t win on the road. The Huskies haven’t won a Pac-12 road game since Nov. 17 of last year, and hold a 7-19 record in road games during Sarkisian’s five-year tenure as coach. In that time, they’ve won just two road games against teams that finished the season with a record of .500 or better.
So their ability to win away from home is a question, “and it’s going to be until we do something about it, quite honestly,” Sarkisian said.
“Inevitably, great teams have the ability to go on the road and beat really good football teams and beat potentially great football teams, and we just haven’t quite gotten there yet.”
In three Pac-12 road losses this season, the Huskies lost by three, 29 and 10 points, respectively.
Sarkisian said it feels like the Huskies are “right there,” which he’s aware isn’t good enough.
“I’m tired of being right there,” he said. “I don’t want to settle for being right there. I want to win those games. When we do, it’s going to be awesome. We’ve got to knock through the door, man. We’ve got to bang that door open.”
And they have to do it without grabbing a facemask, or interfering with a receiver, or holding a defensive lineman. Washington is the most penalized team in the country, averaging 8.9 flags per game. Those infractions, on average, cost the Huskies 79.3 yards per game.
“We’d love to come out of this game with a really clean game where we don’t commit those penalties, and make Oregon State earn everything they get,” Sarkisian said.