The junior quarterback looked like the playmaking 2011 version of himself in a confident performance against the Utes.
Keith Price, the happy-turned-harried quarterback, had been thinking aloud about a game like this for quite some time. He’ll get it back, he kept vowing for weeks, months. Don’t worry, he kept saying, even though he sometimes spoke with worry.
The thing that puzzled Price the most: Getting better had only made him worse. He was in better physical condition, stronger, sturdier. He had prepared better, studied better and understood the nuances of the position better. When Price entered this season, he expected to be an improved version of the quarterback who set school records for touchdowns, completion percentage and passing efficiency. Instead, he has been running for his life, committing turnovers at an alarming rate and struggling in both performance and in trusting the Huskies’ system amid all the chaos around him.
To say Price needed a breakout game would be an understatement. For all the Huskies have done to remain competitive despite adversity and shortcomings, their progress still felt difficult to trust because their quarterback wasn’t playing well. But on Saturday night, Price joined his surging team and put together his best game of the season in a 34-15 victory over Utah before 60,050 at CenturyLink Field.
Price completed 24 of 33 passes for 277 yards. He threw for two touchdowns, ran for another and didn’t commit a turnover. He started slowly, completing 5 of 9 passes for 32 yards in the first quarter, but over the final three quarters, he was the impact player we saw in 2011.
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No more Grief Price.
Welcome back, Teeth Price.
Doesn’t it feel good to see his smile again? And isn’t it comforting to be reminded of the guile behind it?
“I thought this was, by far and away, Keith’s best game of the year,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I kind of felt this was coming the past couple of weeks. I’m happy for him. It’s been a grind for that kid this season. Nobody works harder.”
As Price fell to the second-worst passer rating in the Pac-12, the Huskies went the first nine games this season without scoring more than 21 points against a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision team. It was an ugly blemish on an offense that was averaging just 20.7 points per game.
Well, you can wad up that stat now. It’s irrelevant. And it’s no surprise that the offense had its finest game against legitimate competition on the same night that Price returned to form.
The Huskies (6-4) have now won three straight games, and their virtue is beginning to overshadow their flaws. Bishop Sankey, who ran 36 times for 162 yards against Utah, is now a 1,000-yard rusher. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is now the school’s all-time leader in receptions for a tight end — and he’s only a sophomore. Kasen Williams is a constant big-play threat. The defense is already turning into a stable unit in its first year under new coordinator Justin Wilcox. In six home games at CenturyLink this season, the Huskies allowed only 13.8 points per game. The Utes managed only 188 yards.
If the Huskies get back the real Keith Price, then the forecast for this program — both in closing out 2012 and in preparing for what could be a huge leap in 2013 — becomes exceedingly optimistic. It’s all coming together at the right time.
Without question, Saturday’s performance was the most impressive and complete effort of 2012. The Huskies were good in every aspect of their game. Their special teams had an exceptional night, playing keep-away from explosive return specialist Reggie Dunn and forcing Charles Henderson to fumble a punt return, which led to a Sankey touchdown run. They accepted the challenge against a physical team with a good defense and proved once more that they’re no longer the uncertain, finesse team that they were early in the season.
But Price was the biggest story. This was the 2011 Keith Price.
In the final three quarters, he completed 19 of 24 passes for 245 yards. Even though he was sacked three times and the Huskies struggled some with pass protection, Price was as accurate and assertive as we’ve seen him all season. He even made plays with his legs.
But afterward, the quarterback was subdued when talking about his breakthrough.
“I’m not sure,” Price said when asked why. “I think God had a plan for me, and He challenged me. Of course, the quarterback is going to get a lot of the heat. I’m aware of it. But I had to stay focused and adjust to my team. Now, we see how good we can be.”
Price is at his best when he’s a high-performing complementary player. He needs to lead the offense, not carry it. The Huskies are starting to look like a complete offense now, and Price can fit comfortably into the machine.
No more Grief Price.
Welcome back, Teeth Price.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer