QB play still a strength for Huskies without Locker
By Mitch Light
He was one of the most decorated players in school history. The face of Washington football for four seasons, Jake Locker became the first quarterback from the UW ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Locker’s gone, yet quarterback is still a position of strength for the Huskies. The man to thank for that is Keith Price, a sophomore from Compton, Calif. In his first season as the starter, Price has guided the Huskies to a 3–1 start, with the only loss coming in a 51–38 decision at Nebraska in a game in which he threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns. For the season, Price has completed 75-of-112 passes (67.0 percent) for 983 yards with 14 touchdowns (the most in the nation) and only three interceptions. Those numbers are good enough to rank him No. 2 in the Pac-12 and No. 9 in the nation with a passing efficiency rating of 176.58.
Price was at his best in last Saturday’s win over California in the Pac-12 opener, completing 19-of-25 passes for 292 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has completed at least 57 percent of his attempts in each game and has thrown at least three touchdowns in each game.
Last season, Locker completed only 55 percent of his passes and threw for at least three touchdowns only twice.
This isn’t to say that Price is a better player than Locker — though surely some Washington fans are making that argument — but it’s clear that the Huskies are getting more production from the quarterback position with Price running the show.
“He’s playing phenomenal football for us right now,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said after the Nebraska game. “He’s been lights-out. He’s got an innate ability to extend plays and keep his vision and find open receivers downfield.”
Price is thriving despite playing on two injured knees. He sprained his right knee in the second quarter of a Week 1 win against Eastern Washington and sprained the left knee against Nebraska. It hasn’t hindered him in the passing game too much, but he hasn’t been able to use his legs as much as planned.
In four games, Price has netted only 12 yards rushing.
“The only thing mechanically is just not being able to really run,” Sarkisian said last week. “He’s still quick and elusive. We see that in the pocket. We see it in some suddenness on the about 6-, and 7-yard runs. He just hasn’t been able to open up and go like the way he can.”
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Oregon State is 0–3 for the first time since 1996. The Beavers were 0–3 12 times from 1972 through 1990.
• UCLA completed only seven passes in its 22–19 win over Oregon State. It is the fifth time since the start of last season that the Bruins have completed fewer than 10 passes. They are 3–2 in those games, with wins over Houston, Texas and Oregon State and losses to Kansas State and Washington.
• USC is last in the Pac-12 and 113th in the nation in turnover margin (-1.5 per game). The Trojans have forced three turnovers — only seven teams have forced fewer.
• When not playing LSU, Oregon is averaging 600 yards per game and 9.0 yards per play. The Ducks averaged 4.1 yards per play against LSU.
• Arizona has allowed teams to score on 20 of 22 trips inside the red zone, with 16 touchdowns and four field goals.
• Colorado ranks 118th in the nation with 9.5 penalties per game.
• Despite playing only three games, the Stanford defense leads the nation in yardage lost on sacks. The Cardinal have recorded 14.0 sacks for a combined 114 yards lost.
• Washington ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing defense by more than 60 yards per game. The Huskies are giving up 327.5 yards per game; Stanford is next at 265.7 per game.
We knew what Oregon State was missing. We were aware that the Beavers would be without arguably the most exciting offensive player in school history (Jacquizz Rodgers) and without a player considered by many to be the top defensive lineman in the Pac-10 in 2010 (Stephen Paea). And we understood that James Rodgers, one of the most versatile playmakers in college football over the past few years, would be out indefinitely while recovering from a knee injury.
Still, we expected Oregon State to be good. Not great. But pretty good — as in fourth in the very tough Pac-12 North, with a predicted conference record of 4–5 and an overall mark of 6–6.
Why the optimism? Mike Riley. The Beavers’ veteran head coach always seems to do more with less, somehow getting his team to remain a factor in the league race.
So when it was time to make our predictions, we simply gave Riley and the Beavers the benefit of the doubt, assuming they would find a way to thrive despite the loss of some great players.
Well, look who’s 0–2. It’s still early, but the signs aren’t good for Oregon State, which opened the season with a stunning loss to FCS foe Sacramento State (which lost the following week to Southern Utah) and a 35–0 defeat at Wisconsin.
It might not be time to panic in Corvallis — after all, the 2008 Beavers recovered from an 0–2 start to finish 9–4 — but it’s hard to find many expected wins when you take a look at the final 10 games on the Beavers’ slate.
So what’s the problem? Well, the offense has struggled to get going, even with the emergence of true freshman Malcolm Agnew, who rushed for 223 yards against Sacramento State before missing the Wisconsin game with a hamstring injury. And the quarterback situation is a mess. Strong-armed Ryan Katz, the 2010 starter, was pulled in favor of Sean Mannion during the Wisconsin game. On Tuesday afternoon, Riley announced that Mannion will start against UCLA, but both quarterbacks will likely play.
The numbers aren’t horrible defensively, but the Badgers did give up 29 points to an FCS school and have really struggled against the pass. Opposing quarterbacks are 40-of-57 for 485 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Those numbers have resulted in a national ranking of 116th in passing efficiency defense. It hasn’t helped that senior cornerback Brandon Hardin, one of only three returning starters on defense, has yet to play due to a shoulder injury.
Riley, to his credit, isn’t panicking. He, better than most, understands that there is plenty of time to get his team turned in the right direction. Oregon State has had a winning record in six of eight seasons since Riley returned to Corvallis despite having a combined record of 15–17 in the month of September. Clearly, his teams have a knack for improving as the season progresses.
“I really have hopes for this team,” the coach said after his team was shut out by Wisconsin. “I think there was a lot of stuff today, particularly defensively that was better. So we can build on that. Offensively, I know we can do better.”
They better do better, or Oregon State could be headed for back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the late 1990s.
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Washington State is 2–0 for the first time since 2005 after rolling to wins of 64–21 over Idaho State and 59–7 over UNLV. The level of competition has been very poor, but it’s clear that Paul Wulff’s program is making some progress. The Cougars went 2–10 last season, but ended the year with a shocking 31–14 win at Oregon State and a competitive 35–28 loss to rival Washington in the Apple Cup. The win over UNLV was especially noteworthy because Washington State had to play without quarterback Jeff Tuel, who is out 4-6 weeks with a broken collarbone. Senior Marshall Lobbestael, who had three starts as a redshirt freshman and three as a sophomore, stepped in and completed 24-of-32 for 361 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
• Colorado has already given up 13 plays of 20-plus yards, the most in the Pac-12.
• Washington’s Keith Price has attempted 25 passes in each of his first two games. He completed 17 for 102 yards against Eastern Washington and 18 for 315 yards against Hawaii. His yards per attempt jumped from 4.1 to 12.6 in one week.
• Not much went well for Arizona in last Thursday’s trip to Oklahoma State, but the Wildcats, who played without Juron Criner, did get some production from junior Dan Buckner. A transfer from Texas and former big-time recruit, Buckner caught 10 passes for 142 yards and scored a touchdown.
• Stanford has given up one offensive touchdown in two games, and it came in the final minute of a 44–14 win at Duke. The Cardinal’s opponents have converted only 6-of-30 third down attempts.