BY Art Thiel 09:12PM 10/19/2013

Thiel: Huskies can’t keep playing hurt Price

Keith Price wasn’t right from the beginning of a game that Arizona State turned into a rout because of the Washngton quarterback’s injured thumb. Sarkisian may have pushed too far.

Keith Price, his injured throwing thumb heavily taped, had a rare moment Saturday to complete a pass against Arizona State Saturday to Jaydon Mickens (4). / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

If there is such a thing as an up-tempo offense, there must be a down-tempo, too. The Washington Huskies offered up the latter Saturday in Tempe, AZ: A five-year-old reminder of the Tyrone Willingham days. It should force a change at quarterback.

A near-complete breakdown on offense — a minus-5 yards rushing for a team averaging nearly 250 a game — forced the defense to play 39 minutes against the third formidable attack in three weeks. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t up to it. Most everything built during a 4-0 seasonal start came crashing down in Arizona State’s 53-24 thumping that was the third loss in a row to a top-tier Pac-12 Conference team.

Five years into the Steve Sarkisian regime, the Huskies aren’t in that top tier.

Starting with a 31-28 road loss to Stanford and followed by a 45-24 home loss to second-ranked Oregon, the Huskies were ground down physically and emotionally, leaving little gumption for the Sun Devils.

Chief victim was quarterback Keith Price. Playing with a sore thumb injured against Stanford, Price, the most accurate passer in Huskies history, overthrew several receivers in the first half. He was pounded by a formidable Arizona State rush that exploited the injury absence of left guard Dexter Charles to sack Price six times and deck him after release on numerous other occasions.

After a sack that seemed to injure his hip, Price, who completed 16 of 39 passes, came out of the game and went to the locker room. X-rays revealed no break in the thumb, but the cumulative toll of the past three games may force a change because Price is unable to deliver the ball accurately, for reasons of health or otherwise.

“We’ve just got do a better job,” Sarkisian told KJR-AM radio. “We’re frustrated with the overall passing game. As a staff, we have to put players in a position to be successful, and we didn’t do that tonight.”

Price finally was replaced in the fourth quarter by Cyler Miles, the redshirt-freshman backup, but it was puzzling why Sarkisian kept the obviously diminished starter in the game after the outcome was long decided.

“He had the thumb issue again, then he gets twisted up (during a sack) and gets hurt,” Sarkisian said. “We have to really assess our passing game. Right now, it’s not good enough to win against good football teams.”

Asked whether a change was imminent, Sarkisian said, “We have to assess his health and see where he’s at from a standpoint of performing.”

As always, Price, who took fearsome beatings against Stanford and Oregon, would not own up to being too injured to play well.

“It’s different,” he said of his thumb injury. “If I’m healthy enough to make the throws, then I should play. If I wasn’t healthy enough, I wouldn’t play.”

As a fifth-year senior with unquestioned toughness, Price never wants to admit he’s too hurt too play, and the coaching staff doesn’t want to give up on his experience and talent. But since the next two opponents, Cal and Colorado, wrapped around a bye, are the conference’s two worst teams, an opportunity is there to let Price heal over three weeks to prepare for UCLA, Oregon State and Washington State.

Even during the Huskies’ game-opening drive to a touchdown and a 7-0 lead, Price overthrew two receivers who could have had touchdown catches, then completed a pass to tight end Josh Perkins, who would have scored, except his leap to catch Price’s ball led to a stumble and fall. Something was wrong from the start.

“They brought pressure all day,” Price said. “A couple times I missed throws I usually make. If I hit those, we could have backed them out of those pressures.”

Apparently unworried about Price, the Sun Devils loaded up to stop RB Bishop Sankey, who came into the game as the nation’s leading rusher, averaging 149 yards a game, but finshed with 22 yards in 14 carries, with a long of nine. Against a better defense the previous week, Sankey ran for 167 yards in 28 carries against the Ducks.

Price marveled at the Sun Devils’ aggressiveness.

“They played hard,” he said. “I felt every shot. They were nasty. They out-physicaled us.”

Especially in the second quarter, when Washington had five three-and-out possessions as ASU scored 26 points (29 unanswered in the half). The imbalance overloaded a Washington defense that began play in 85-degree weather and, despite some stout play early in the red zone, wore out. After allowing 631 yards to Oregon last week, they allowed 585 in 93 plays to the Sun Devils.

It was not how Sarkisian imagined things when he said Monday, “We’re going to go out in the second half and play a great half of the season and it starts Saturday. We’re going to come out of the blocks playing fast, physical football.”

That wasn’t going to happen with an injured QB on the road against a solid team. It’s remarkable Sarkisian couldn’t see that.


YourThoughts

  • BabyGAAP

    For the past 3 years I have been waiting for Sark to recruit some linemen (mainly O-line). Skill players are great, but the battle starts up front.

    • Sniper

      Agreed.

    • art thiel

      Quality O-linemen are hard gets, and the few within the state mostly have gone elsewhere. And it may be that at midseason, the uptempo pace is beginning to leave heavy legs.

      • BabyGAAP

        True that they are hard to get. But I am now wondering if there are some serious problems developing our recruits. Many teams have recruited linemen that aren’t superstar-talents (i.e. Stanford, Oregon) and they have transformed their programs and routinely develop their players into winners.

        • nimankal

          Stanford is filled with superstar linemen.

          • BabyGAAP

            Yes, I know they are. My point (re-read my post) is that Sark is failing to develop his players. Stanford in particular was trash before Harbaugh went there, and they have now transformed their offense and their program.

          • nimankal

            Harbaugh was also an excellent recruiter, especially at OL and TE. Dude is the total package, great coach. From my perspective (I’m an ASU fan) Sark has elevated the Huskies, understandably not to the level they want to be and are capable of as a storied program with deep pockets. Not sure how much more play Sark should get, I imagine his seat is a little warmer after this weekend.

          • BabyGAAP

            100% agree with you that Harbaugh was an excellent recruiter. But he also developed those TE’s and OL into great players. I know recruiting rankings are not the best way to measure talent, but the TE’s he recruited were not highly rated coming out of high school. I do think it speaks volumes what he did to transform that program from the bottom of the PAC-10 to the top.

          • nimankal

            They were usually pretty highly rated, the ones that weren’t 4 stars on Rivals were 5.7 3 stars. They weren’t a bunch of chumps, they were sought after TE’s for the most part. He impacted the recruiting the rankings before he did the BCS rankings.

  • Will

    A few days ago there was mild panic that Sarkisian might leave UW for USC. Now, after this stinker maybe the thought is, “Please Sark, go to SC”.

    • art thiel

      The snark is flying about the USC vacancy and the Huskies coach. Not to mention Wilcox, who some see as Sark’s successor at UW. Their resumes took a big hit Saturday.

      • Effzee

        Sark’s rep took a hit but not Wilcox’s, to me. I was super impressed w him post-game. Sark, not so much. There’s only so much a D-Coordinator can do when his unit is on the field for an entire quarter, and his HC will not pull the trigger on the obvious solution. This is all on Sark. If he doesn’t start Miles next week, he’s opting to throw the season away. KP will never be the QB he was 2 years ago. He’s done. I understand the philosophy is to be loyal to your guys in order to show the kids you won’t bail on them at the first sign of struggling. But this is FAR from KP’s first signs of struggling. At some point that loyalty becomes unfair to the rest of the team. Playing KP from here on out is being disloyal to the idea of building a winning tradition.

        • art thiel

          I think Price showed early in the season he was over 2012. And he can still be good, but he isn’t healthy, plain and simple. Two bad teams and a bye in the next three weeks give a chance for him to get healthy. If he is healthy in three weeks, he probably is the better choice to finish the season.

          • Effzee

            Except for that we don’t know how Miles will play. Let’s not just say that before we see anything from him. I know KP’s numbers were more 2011-like earlier in the year, but they were unleashing an offense that nobody had film on, and playing apparently inferior opponents. IMHO, he has decision and accuracy issues, injured or not.

          • Effzee

            The more I look at pics from Oregon and ASU, the cast/tape on his throwing hand, his grip on the ball, etc., the more clear it becomes that he had no business being in those games. I’m not even saying we would have won either of them w a different QB, but playing KP was dumb and gave us zero chance to win from the outset.

  • Blair

    That was the worst coaching performance in all of Sark’s five years. Is he in charge, or is his QB? Obvious from the second drive he should not have been out there, inexplicable that he was out there in the fourth quarter.

    • art thiel

      Poor judgment by Sark. A coach can’t wish an injury away.

  • jafabian

    IMO, even with a healthy Price the score would be the same. The O-Line gave Price poor protection and made Sankey’s day difficult. And the defense is still making the mistakes that were evident in the Holt era. At the very least they needed to stop ASU from answering the quick TD the Dawgs scored in the opening of the 2nd half and they couldn’t do it. This isn’t the same team that upset Boise State.

    So long top 20. It was nice while it lasted. See ya next year.

    • art thiel

      Price is showing a lack of faith in his teammates that compromised his last season. I don’t blame him. This game, at least for him in the pocket, was scary bad.

  • Buggy White

    By leaving Price in the game for so long, could Sark be showing that he has a lack of confidence in his backup? Miles looked pretty good a few weeks ago!

    • art thiel

      A coach never wants to back away from a fifth-year senior with proven skills and toughness, especially for a redshirt freshman. But Sark’s judgment of QB productivity was crucial to success on both sides of the ball. He erred.

  • Proud75Duck

    Even I was shocked at how poorly UW played against ASU. And what happened to the tackling? Wow. UW was poor in every category. Price should have been pulled in the 2nd quarter, if only to try and shake off the offensive blahs. As for the defense, don’t know what Wilcox could have done to change things…the Sun Devils manhandled the Huskies way too easily.

  • Reed Smith

    I see part of the problem being lack of focus and lack of any real fear from the players on being called out for it…Sark only needs to look at the model that has been successful at UW in the past (DJ) and is successful elsewhere by his proteges (Saban)…he needs to handover playcalling to an OC and become the chairman that DJ was…players need to be intimidated to keep focus…I just don’t see much of that in Sark.