Needing 10 yards on fourth down to keep Washington’s upset bid alive last week at No. 5 Stanford, quarterback Keith Price scrambled right and fired downfield to Kevin Smith.
The Husky receiver appeared to make a diving catch for a first down, but a replay official overturned the call on the field and the 16th-ranked Huskies (4-1) lost their first game of the season.
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Kevin,” Price said. “The result wasn’t what we wanted, which was more my fault than his. But the thing I took away from that whole thing is he’s a guy that I have no problems going to with the game on the line.
“I can say that about a bunch of guys now and that’s such a great feeling.”
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Nearing the midpoint of the college football season, the names at the top of Washington’s receiving list are a little surprising.
Smith, the senior who had fewer than 300 receiving yards total during the previous three seasons, is first on the team with 367.
And Jaydon Mickens, the diminutive sophomore speedster who struggled with dropped passes last season, leads the Huskies with 30 receptions.
You can lament Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ slow start – the preseason All-American tight end has 14 catches for 149 yards. You can argue the Huskies should target Kasen Williams more often and maybe UW should incorporate promising freshman John Ross a bit more into the game plan.
But there’s no denying Mickens and Smith have diversified a passing attack that was predictable last season.
“From the first couple of series against Boise, they played a certain brand of football and style in which they did it and they haven’t wavered on it,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “They come to practice every day with amazing energy. They’re probably two of the more positive guys on our roster outside of Keith. Just a positive attitude. They love being out here every day and it carries right over into the game.
“Their attention to detail is tremendous. They’re both playing with a lot of confidence right now and a belief in their ability.”
Smith, 5-foot-11 and 214 pounds, is having the season many expected years ago from the Compton, Calif., native ranked the No. 23 receiver in the nation by Scout.com after his senior season at Centennial High in Corona, Calif.
He appeared in at least 10 games in each of his first three seasons, and in 2011 Smith set a UW record with 176 kickoff return yards versus USC.
But he suffered a major setback days before the 2011 Alamo Bowl when he tore his ACL.
Smith played in 12 games last season, but had just six catches for 68 yards.
“When you’re not on the field, it’s hard to be confident in yourself and your abilities,” Price said. “He had to deal with the knee injury and just get his confidence back.” Mickens also struggled with confidence, but Price never doubted the speedy 5-10, 170-pounder.
“Nah, my trust in him never wavered,” Price said. “The key for me was throwing with him in the offseason and getting used to throwing to a smaller receiver and knowing his catch radius and where I can put the ball.
“The ball placement is critical with little guys. You have to kind of really put the ball on him. Once you get him the ball, he can do his thing.”
Mickens tallied nine catches for 109 yards – both career highs – in the opener against Boise State. He followed that performance with an eight-catch outing against Illinois and last week he caught nine passes for 59 yards.
“For me it was all about just growing up,” Mickens said. “Being a better football player. Being a better man. Managing my time. And just being consistent. That’s what I had a problem with. Coming out here and being consistent day in and day out. Doing all the little things right.
Mickens has been exceptional this season in the slot and catching passes out of the backfield. Meanwhile, Smith has developed into Price’s favorite deep threat.
“Without a question, Jaydon and Kevin have been the most surprising guys on the offensive end, and it’s been fun to see those guys go out there and have success,” Price said. “To know where they’ve been and what they did – especially in the offseason and during the summer. They did the right things, man.
“They put in the work and now it’s paying off for them.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.