SEATTLE — In a season of surprises for the University of Washington football team — for starters, how about five victories in the first six games — perhaps nothing has been more remarkable than the steady and sometimes dazzling play of quarterback Keith Price.
Midway through Washington’s regular season, Price has not only proven to be a capable successor to Jake Locker, he also has emerged as one of the best statistical quarterbacks in college football.
In a 52-24 thrashing of Colorado on Saturday afternoon, Price completed three of every four passing attempts (21-for-28) and tossed four touchdown passes for the third time this season. He finished with 257 passing yards, but had 230 in an almost blemish-free first half, and then left the game for good late in the third quarter with the Huskies holding a four-touchdown margin.
“Keith was just feeding everyone, and everyone was making plays when the opportunities came,” said wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who had five receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown.
In Locker’s senior season a year ago, “Keith sat and learned everything,” said wide receiver James Johnson, who had five catches for 61 yards against Colorado. “It was tough on him, but now he’s getting his opportunity and he’s taking advantage of it.”
As teammates, Johnson added, “we love him, and we know he’s going to continue to get better.”
Price’s four TD passes on Saturday give him 21 for the season, which is tied for the fourth-best total in UW history with six games still to play. He trails only Cody Pickett (28 TD passes in 2002), Brock Huard (25, 1997) and Billy Joe Hobert (24, 1991). Price is also just one TD pass behind NCAA leader Robert Griffin of Baylor, who threw for three TDs on Saturday.
Among other glowing numbers, Price completed over 70 percent of his passes on Saturday for the fourth time this season. His season percentage is 69.4 (118-for-170).
“I love coaching him,” said UW head coach Steve Sarkisian. “It’s fun being on the field with him on game day. He brings a real sense of confidence to me as much as to our players.”
In his first full season as a starter, Price has yet to have a poor game. The low points, if we would call them that, were a mere 102 passing yards in the season opener against Eastern Washington and a less-than-impressive first half vs. Utah two weeks ago.
But against Utah, Sarkisian said, “he rebounded and had a great second half. And I think that’s part of his psyche. When he’s struggling, he’s going to find a way out of it. He’s not going to harbor all these negative thoughts. That’s not how he is.”
As always, Price modestly said little about his own play on Saturday, although he insisted that “I still have a long way to go. I still want to be better. I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done so far.”
His teammates, though, are quite willing to say about Price what he seems unwilling to say about himself.
“Keith’s been doing a great job,” Kearse said. “I kind of expected that out of him … with the type of leader he was going to be and the type of player he was going to be. But he’s definitely surpassed my expectations.”
“His knowledge of the game is just amazing from where it was when he first got here to where it is now,” Johnson said. “I still believe he’s got a lot more in him, but he’s an awesome quarterback.”
Last week’s bye allowed Price to rest two sore knees and an ankle sprain, and on Saturday he said he felt much better. “I could step into my throws,” he said. “I didn’t have to kind of baby my legs. … I wasn’t 100 percent (physically), but I’m getting close.”
Next Saturday, in what will easily be Washington’s biggest game of the year to date, the Huskies travel to face Stanford. The winner will either share or have the outright lead in the Pac-12 North standings.
To beat the Cardinal, Washington will have to contain star quarterback Andrew Luck, who is “the best player in the nation,” Price said.
As for himself, he added with a smile, “I’m just going to go out and try to do my job.”