Washington dug out of an early 17-point hole Saturday at CenturyLink Field but three turnovers in the second half ended the Huskies' comeback hopes in a 24-14 loss to the Trojans.
It was all so frustratingly close.
It was a play that might have saved what looked like a lost afternoon, and might have turned around a season that hasn’t gone anything like Keith Price imagined.
And then the ball, and the game, were gone, leaving Price once again to wonder where it’s all headed.
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“I can’t turn the ball over,” a visibly upset Price said Saturday night after losing two fumbles and throwing two interceptions as USC defeated Washington 24-14 at CenturyLink Field. “I just can’t. … There were plays where I just tried to do too much and it cost my team, and it cost my team a loss.”
Certainly, Washington’s defeat was due to a lot more than Price — a shaky defense early that allowed USC to gain 233 yards in the first half, some faulty special teams play that allowed USC to block a punt for a touchdown, and a leaky offensive line that had Price running for his life much of the day also shared in the blame.
But afterward, Price was willing to shoulder it all, especially for the play that will likely be the lingering image of this game — his fumble on a second-and-goal play from the 3-yard line with just more than 11 minutes left and the Huskies down 24-14.
Washington called a “read option” in which Price has the option of handing off to the running back or keeping the ball.
“I needed to make one guy miss and I almost made the guy miss,” Price said. “And he (USC safety Jawanza Starling) kind of got a late hand on it. Ball security, man, my ball security was bad and it cost me.”
The turnover ruined UW’s last real chance to steal away a game that looked completely lost at halftime, with the Trojans ahead 24-7 and having held Washington’s offense to 87 yards in the first half and no first downs in the second quarter.
USC scored the first two times it had the ball to take a 10-0 lead, the second one following an interception of Price by USC linebacker Dion Bailey.
It was the second straight week UW had fallen behind early (last week the Huskies trailed Oregon 21-0 in the first quarter), which had coach Steve Sarkisian saying his team needs to change its mental approach to the start of games.
“We just need to find a way to start our engines and play at a high level from the opening kickoff of the ballgame and do it with a real sense of urgency and want-to, because when we do that we are pretty good,” Sarkisian said.
The Huskies used a Marcus Peters interception of Matt Barkley to set up their own touchdown late in the first quarter to get the crowd of 66,202 rocking.
But USC dominated the second quarter — UW ran nine plays for six yards in the quarter — capping it with a blocked punt for a touchdown with 4:41 left to take a 24-7 lead at halftime.
“I feel like we came out and we were kind of just running plays,” said UW running back Bishop Sankey. “There was really no edge to us.”
Sankey said he felt UW got it back in the second half. But it took a little while as USC seemed ready to put the game away for good when Marqise Lee caught an apparent touchdown pass with 7:52 to play in the third quarter. But the play was wiped out by a holding penalty on the Trojans.
Resigned to kicking a field goal, USC blew that too, when UW’s Desmond Trufant broke through to block the 41-yard attempt by Andre Heidari.
And from there, UW finally got rolling, using a no-huddle, hurry-up to get Price in his rhythm — after throwing incomplete on his first three passes, he completed his next 16.
A 29-yard touchdown strike to Austin Seferian-Jenkins made it 24-14 with 6:02 left in the third and got the Huskies — and the crowd — back into it.
After a three-and-out, UW again drove into USC territory. But the drive stalled at the USC 27, and UW kicker Travis Coons missed from 45 yards.
Still, after another USC three-and-out, UW got the ball at its own 46, and used running by Sankey and Kendyl Taylor to get to 3-yard line.
Then, Price fumbled.
USC made three first downs to take almost six minutes off the clock, leaving the door open just slightly by going for it on fourth down and failing when Josh Shirley sacked Barkley.
Washington’s next drive, though, ended all too fittingly. On fourth down, Price tried to hit Cody Bruns. But the ball was tipped by Seferian-Jenkins, who admitted he was not where he was supposed to be, and intercepted by USC’s Josh Shaw at USC’s 49-yard line. One last-gasp drive ended in another Price fumble on a scramble with 2:01 left.
Sarkisian praised Price for competing, while acknowledging that “at the end of the day, the story of the game” was the four turnovers.
Seferian-Jenkins, meanwhile, defended Price, saying “he is the leader of our team and we are going to stay behind him and we don’t really care what the fans think about Keith. We care about how we think about Keith.”
Not that any of that was much solace to Price, who a year ago threw a school-record 33 touchdowns and was acclaimed as one of the surprise stars in the nation but now is struggling to find his way.
“I just can’t get too down on myself,” Price said. “And I know it’s going to hurt me all night, it’s going to hurt me all weekend, and it’s probably going to hurt me on Monday. But I just have to stay strong and continue believing in myself.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.