Stanford’s senior QB is the best in the land, but not so much better than the UW soph QB. An upset of the 7th-ranked Cardinal rests largely with him and an increasingly creative playbook.
No, the question isn’t worth mentioning.
Probably shouldn’t even think about it.
Then again, the subject isn’t national security secrets. Hell, it isn’t even as ridiculous as Jim Harbaugh’s nuclear handshake.
OK, I’ve talked myself into it:
Saturday in Palo Alto, what if Stanford’s Andrew Luck is the second-best quarterback on the field?
I know. Not likely. Luck is bigger, stronger, older, more polished, has a better team around him, and is playing at home.
But still . . . No one figured Washington for 5-1 either, nor did they see the emergence of Price as a record-breaker in his first year in charge.
The line is fine between imagination and delirium. But it is illuminated in sports by a scoreboard.
It takes little imagination to see Stanford (6-0) and seventh-ranked, beating a team it has dominated the last two years by a combined score of 75-14, including 41-0 last year. Delirium is nearly required to see the Huskies winning on the road with Price outplaying Luck.
Delirium is far more interesting.
Consider, for example, that Luck’s pass efficiency rating is a Pac-12-leading 180.6, and Price is right behind at 177.9. Luck has rushed a little better, 60 yards to 15, but Price has thrown 21 touchdown passes, three more than Luck.
And the scouting description?
“He’s poised, makes every throw and he can run,” said Price Monday of Luck. Price could have been speaking of the fellow in the mirror.
Obviously, no outcome rests exclusively on the quarterback. And in fact, Saturday’s match will turn on the more successful defense. But that’s where things get intriguing.
Price has coach Steve Sarkisian. Together, they have a shot to go schoolyard on the Cardinal in order to keep Luck on the sidelines a few extra minutes. If he isn’t on the field, he’s as effective as a down marker.
Each week, the Huskies coach added to the offensive ordnance with fresh personnel groups, sets, formations and plays. Things seemed to have climaxed Saturday in the 52-24 rout of Colorado, when the Huskies ran the no-huddle, mixed in some wildcat and scored on an end-around.
But Sarkisian said the full arsenal has yet to be deployed.
“There will probably be a few new things that we do that we haven’t shown before,” he said Monday. “I think that’s one of our strengths. That’s something that’s unique to our brand of football. We believe in personnel groupings and shifts and motions and a lot of multiplicity.
“That keeps our kids interested and having fun with what we do, but also is effective to the game plan.”
Before the Utah game, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said of the UW offense, “They may have more formations than any team I have ever prepared for.”
Admitting that when he came to Washington, he was overwhelmed by the playbook — “it felt like Spanish to me” — Price now revels in Sarkisian’s creativity.
“He’s so smart,” Price said. “It’s crazy — he dreams plays, or something. It works. Some of the stuff we do, I’d never think about it.
“I think he’s opened it a lot more. It’s fun. The team is having fun. Everyone is getting the ball. We’re doing all right.”
Two of Luck’s greatest attributes are his command of the playbook and huddle. He has almost complete freedom to audible. Surprisingly, Price said even though he is a sophomore, he has similar license.
“Quite a bit, actually, but it’s all game plan stuff,” he said. “I wasn’t able to do that in high school. I’ve gotten a little smarter, and coach has done a great job preparing me and showing me how to study.”
They’re doing well enough to to have more than a puncher’s chance Saturday. Stanford has yet to beat a team that currently has a winning record, although Washington State was 3-2 before the Cardinal thumped the Cougars 44-14 Saturday in Pullman. The Cardinal hasn’t played a team with Washington’s capacity for variety and surprise. For the holdovers on Stanford’s defense who remember shutting out the Huskies with Jake Locker at quarterback, the change may provoke hesitation in the first quarter, where Stanford has outscored opponents 50-0.
That may not be enough to win, but what Washington has shown through six games is enough to take the notion of upset from delirium to imagination.
“I don’t envision us going there and just completely laying an egg like we have last year and like we really did two years ago,” Sarkisian said. “We’re better. We’re a better team, just in general. We play a much more consistent brand of football. The last two years we’d been very spotty, hit and miss. We’d play very good one week and not very good the next. I think we’re finding the consistency within our game.”
It is asking much of Price to out-perform Luck. But he and Sarkisian already turned the playbook from Spanish to Shakespearian English. This is no time to quit on the imagination.