After a sluggish first half, quarterback Keith Price and running back Chris Polk led Washington to a decisive Pac-12 victory over Utah in Salt Lake City.
STEVE: Not sure yet what Steve Sarkisian said at halftime Saturday in Salt Lake City, when the Huskies led 10-7, but easily could have trailed 21-7. Had to be the equivalent of a “Win One For The Gipper” speech, because the Huskies dominated the second half behind Keith Price and Chris Polk, winning 31-14. Huskies are now 4-1 (2-0 in conference), only two wins shy of bowl eligibility with seven games remaining.
ART: One of the great halves in recent Huskies history, and it was on the road, at altitude, against a team that had won 23 in a row at home, and against a fan base utterly jacked to have their first home game as a Pac-12 member. Fergawdsakes, the defense was even respectable.
STEVE: The Huskies created five turnovers, two in the red zone in the first half, that kept Utah off the board. I can’t recall seeing a guy have such a Jekyll/Hyde first half as Desmond Trufant. He gives up a big play that would have gone for a TD if the Utah receiver hadn’t stepped out of bounds. He runs into a punt returner, drawing a 15-yard penalty. To atone, he strips a receiver and recovers a fumble at the UW 5-yard line. That was typical of Washington’s defensive effort.
ART: The biggest feat was holding the Utes to 17 net yards rushing, none in the second half, after averaging 171 yards a game coming into Saturday. I realize a lot of those yards were semi-bogus, coming against Montana State and BYU, But for a lot of the game, it looked as if Utah reached a league too far.
STEVE: That’s the fewest rushing yards the Huskies have allowed to any team since 2007, when they gave up a eight to Syracuse in the season opener and 25 to Arizona later in the year.
ART: It helped that Washington knocked out Utah’s starting QB, Jordan Wynn, with a separated shoulder in the first half. But that was indicative of a bigger success — they won the battle along both lines.
STEVE: Especially in the second half. Polk had about 150 of his 189 rushing yards in the second half, and Price threw all three of his touchdown passes, giving him a whopping 17 for the season.
ART: Sarkisian said afterward, ”In this atmosphere and environment, I couldnt be more impressed. It might be our best win in our time here . . . At halftime, we’d been in some tight games, and you could feel the tension (in those games). This time, there was a sense of confidence that wed get it right in the second half. Keith was a little jittery in the first half. We hadnt seen that from him. But he calmed down, and I knew we’d be fine.” Week after week, Price just keeps adding stars to his report card.
STEVE: Price is averaging 3.4 touchdown passes per game. The single-season UW record is 2.77 by Brock Huard in 1997. Price also moved up to a tie for seventh all time (with Jake Locker) in single-season TD passes with 17. The worrisome thing here is not that Price was a little jittery in the first half, but that both of his knees are hurting.
ART: He also turned an ankle in the first half. By the time he threw his final TD pass to Devin Aguilar in the fourth quarter, his limp reminded me of most horses I bet on at Emerald Downs. But he said after the game that he’d be fine. So far, he hasn’t lied about it. If ever there was a player in need of Saturday’s bye, it is Price. The kid needs to lay on a couch for two weeks.
STEVE: I agree. This week, Sportspress Northwest ran a story with a poll comparing him to other UW quarterbacks through the first four games of a season. Most voters — 80 percent — said they would start Price over Jake Locker, if Locker miraculously returned to the UW. Having watched dozens of UW quarterbacks over the years — and recognizing that Price has only six games under his belt (five this year), what’s your assessment of him?
ART: The biggest question around an inexperienced quarterback is decision-making, and he’s answered it splendidly. Price knows his playbook, his teammates and himself. Sarkisian always praises Price’s ability to extend plays, meaning his escapes from trouble that avoid sacks and still moves the ball. He’s gifted, smart and has the huddle’s respect. Where he fits in UW history awaits time, but right now he’s the most effective QB since Marques Tuiasosopo (pardon us, Jake).
STEVE: Let’s talk a little about Polk. He became the third UW back to surpass 3,000 career rushing yards (joining Napoleon Kaufman and Joe Steele). He also had his 15th career 100-yard rushing game (only Kaufman with 17 has more). Polk almost went pro last year and certainly will next spring. How do you assess his chances in the NFL?
ART: Definitely pro material, maybe middle-round. He has burst, higher-gear speed, toughness and balance. Plus a wonderful stiff-arm. Late in the game he absolutely stoned a Utah defensive back with a Corey Dillon-esque straight-arm.
STEVE: After beating Utah, the Huskies are 4-1 and have won eight of their past nine, including the Holiday Bowl. Looks like the stink of 0-12 (2008) has been fumigated, and that Sarkisian has turned around the program — although the defense is still scary.
ART: Here’s the two biggest developments from Saturday: They won going away on the road against a respectable conference opponent (without any “God’s play” last-moment dramatics) and didn’t need a mammoth game from Price (226 yards passing). In fact, they won with him, not because of him. They won one for the Gimper.