After scoring on their first two possessions of the season, Washington's offense was shut out the rest of the night.
Washington needed to put together a drive, not so much to win the game but to assure itself that this offense could move the ball when it needed points.
Up 21-12 to San Diego State, early in the fourth quarter, Washington was looking for something to wake up a home crowd of 53,742 that had grown as quiet as the gallery at last week’s Boeing Classic.
The Huskies needed their quarterback, Keith Price, to do what he did so often last season, march the team with his arm, his legs and his head.
Up 21-12, Washington could have used a statement drive to take with them to Baton Rouge and Louisiana State next weekend.
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They needed Price in the fourth quarter to play as well as he did in the first quarter.
Price came out riffing, ripping apart the San Diego State secondary, directing Washington’s run-and-gun offense as if he were born to this manner.
Thirteen yards to Kasen Williams, then 8 to Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Tick, tick, tick. He rolled right and hit Jaydon Mickens for 4 yards on a third-and-three. Then he found Seferian-Jenkins for 8 more yards.
In the Huskies’ first possession of the season, a seven-play, 35-yard touchdown drive, Price completed four of five passes. The tempo was fast. The play-calling was smart. The execution was clean.
They needed that kind of efficiency again in the fourth quarter, but they didn’t get it. Price completed a 9-yard pass to Seferian-Jenkins to start the possession, but then the offense stalled.
After scoring on their first two possessions of the season, Washington’s offense was shut out the rest of the night. It wasn’t a stellar beginning to what is supposed to be another season that ends with a bowl game.
In this closer-than-expected 21-12 win over San Diego State on Saturday night, Price missed his first pass, then hit 12 in a row, including an 8-yard score to Williams. Price finished the night 25 for 35 for 222 yards. He completed passes to nine different receivers.
Price was good but not great. In too many instances he held on to the ball too long.
If you were expecting a reprise of his 438-yard Alamo Bowl performance, you didn’t get it. This was a cautious beginning. Not as cautious as last year’s opening day squeaker win over Eastern Washington, but not the offensive hurricane Price produced against Baylor last December.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian still winces when he thinks back to the Eastern opener.
“I stunk in that first game with Keith. I was really terrible,” Sarkisian said recently, sitting in his office before Saturday night’s season’s opener. “He threw for 105 yards. I’ll never forget it. We didn’t have one explosive pass play. I didn’t do a very good job.”
That next week, talking with his staff and his players, Sarkisian made the point that he could trust Keith Price and he was going to call the game the same way he did in previous seasons for Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez and Jake Locker.
He would allow Price the freedom to quarterback in what Sarkisian calls “the gray areas,” the places in the playbook that might be a little riskier but offer greater rewards.
“I told the staff that I could trust this guy,” Sarkisian said. “Keith knew what he was doing.”
Arguably, quarterback is the most difficult position in sports. You crouch under center, 80,000 fans are screaming. The players across the line are growling, cursing, coming after you, trying to rip your helmet off your head, preferably with your head still in it.
Defensive backs are disguising coverages. You’re looking at the play clock. You’re reading the defense. You’re trying to call an audible.
“I try to coach the position as if I’m in their shoes,” Sarkisian said. “To me the position of quarterback, where coaches can make mistakes, is that they can make it too black and white. There’s a lot of gray in that position. You have to allow the quarterback to play in gray.”
But there wasn’t enough gray against San Diego State. The offense was vanilla, probably saving stuff for the LSU game. Certainly Price is better than much of this game.
He missed a few open receivers, overthrowing Williams to stop the first drive of the second half. All night, the offense had trouble sustaining drives.
Against a defense as aggressive as LSU’s, Price needs to play in the gray. And in the opener he didn’t spend enough time there.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org