Snapping a three-game skid Saturday is more difficult for the Huskies if QB Keith Price misses the first start of his career with a swollen thumb. Fortunately for UW, it plays Cal.
The Washington Huskies (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) could be without quarterback Keith Price when they line up across from Pac-12 North floormat, Cal (1-6, 0-4 Pac-12) Saturday night at Husky Stadium (8 p.m., Fox Sports One). The swelling on Price’s thumb on his throwing hand has moved to a new, lower area, UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday.
“When he misses the way he misses the past couple of weeks, to me, that’s a direct result of the thumb not being where it needs to be,” Sarkisian said. “I’m going to have to assess that this week to make sure that he’s capable of making the throws that he’s been capable of making for the last five years. We’ll see how he responds.”
Price injured the thumb Oct. 5 in a 31-28 loss to Stanford, and since looked nothing like his former self — especially in Saturday’s 53-24 loss to Arizona State.
Some tosses were short, others sailed. The ones he did complete — he finished Saturday 16 of 39 for 217 yards and two touchdowns — looked out of rhythm. Pegged by Sarkisian as a quarterback that releases a tight spiral, at times Price’s throws dove like the Hindenburg.
Sarkisian early in the fourth quarter pulled his senior for backup Cyler Miles.
“He’s sore,” Sarkisian said Monday. “His thumb is swollen, but I know Keith Price is a tough guy, he’s a fighter, and he’s going to do everything in his power to be prepared and ready to play come Saturday night.”
Sarkisian was the target of criticism for failing to bench Price when it became apparent he wasn’t physically fit to play against the Sun Devils. That situation raised the conundrum: When a quarterback says he is fine, and nothing in practice indicates he might not be, how does the coach evaluate whether he should start?
Sarkisian said it’s a difficult decision that he embraces.
“The mental side is the one that is challenging to dig into, of where exactly (Price) stands, in part due to some of the physical ailments that he might have,” he said. “That’s the stuff I really try to watch closely.”
Monday the Huskies didn’t practice, instead choosing to lift weights, hold team meetings Sarkisian described as “lengthy,” all while observing the death Sunday of program icon Don James.
If Price can’t play against Cal, the Huskies start backup quarterback Cyler Miles, a six-foot-four, 213-pound freshman from Centennial, Colo. Miles is five of eight for 97 yards and a touchdown this season. Saturday in relief of Price, he commanded two drives, going 0-for-1 during fourth-quarter garbage time.
“I think Cyler is a very confident player,” Sarkisian said. “He works diligently in his preparation. I think (third-stringer) Jeff Lindquist as well has really improved along the way. We’re fortunate we’ve recruited that position really well, and we’ve got some talented guys that can step in and play.”
Losers of three in a row, Sarkisian said it isn’t yet time to consider making drastic changes. The Huskies next two opponents, both at home, are Cal and Colorado, a combined 4-9, 0-7, a give them a fairly easy route to 6-3.
Regardless, Sarkisian is demanding improvement from every position group after ASU out-gained them, 585-212. Expect heavy doses of running back Bishop Sankey — held Saturday to 13 carries for 22 yards and a touchdown — against a Cal team whose only win came Sept. 7 against an FBS opponent, Portland State.
The Huskies could be without starting left guard Dexter Charles for the second week after he injured his left shoulder during the Oregon game. They used back-up and former starter Erik Kohler in his stead, though he did little to keep Price, making his 33rd consecutive start, from being sacked six times.
The most damning statistic? UW’s uptempo offense ran just 65 plays, while ASU’s ran 93. Sarkisian felt the discrepancy was the product of a poor running game.
Expect that to change against Cal.
“You guys know me enough by now that I love running the ball,” Sarkisian said. “I love giving the ball to Bishop. To go and stand in front of your guys and look at the stat sheet, and he has 13 carries in a critical ballgame in a season, that’s not enough.”