University of Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday he might be forced to start backup Nick Montana at quarterback Saturday when his reeling Huskies travel to Corvallis to play the Oregon State Beavers.
Kickoff for Washington’s second-to-last game of the regular season is 12:30 p.m. at Reser Stadium.
A redshirt freshman, Montana has never started a college game, but had some significant work in Saturday’s 40-17 loss to Southern California. He entered the game with USC leading 37-10, and completed nine of 15 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown, 20 yards to Kasen Williams.
Sarkisian said that regular starter Keith Price, who sustained a variety of injuries this year, has a severely swollen knee.
“There is the potential that he won’t start,” Sarkisian said. “We’ll have a better understanding of that tomorrow (Tuesday). We may not know until later in the week. I have to monitor that. But Price is not going to practice today. He’s got to take some tests. He got twisted up pretty good (at USC). We don’t think the injury is significant, but his knee is a lot more swollen than it has been.”
Price threw 21 touchdown passes in Washington’s first six games as the Huskies rolled to a 5-1 record. In the past four games, three of them defeats, Price has thrown just four TD passes. He didn’t throw even one against the Trojans, the first game this season that he’s been blanked.
Price still has a chance to match or break Cody Pickett’s 2002 school record of 28 touchdown passes.
The Trojans sacked Price four times, a week after Oregon dropped him six times.
“Ultimately, those hits pile up,” said Sarkisian. “Our ability to control a game early has got to improve.”
Sarkisian said he would be comfortable starting Montana.
“Regardless of whether it’s Keith or Nick, we have to put our kids in the best position to be successful. If Nick starts, we’re going to try to play to Nick’s strengths.”
Montana has seen action in just four games. He has completed 13 of 20 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He has a passer efficiency rating of 133.2.
“Nick has gotten better every time he’s gotten in a game,” Sarkisian said. “In the last three weeks he’s had his best days of practice. He’s played fast and been decisive in his decision making. He has really improved. He did a nice job last Saturday, and if he has to play against Oregon State I would expect him to play well. So I feel good if he has to start. I feel great about Nick Montana because I have some experience with him.”
Getting the rest of his Huskies to play well, Sarkisian admitted, is going to be a challenge.
“In the past few weeks, we really haven’t played with a sense of purpose. We have been ‘out-physicaled’ and haven’t had any sense of urgency. I want us to become a much more consistent team, from drive-to-drive and snap-to-snap. Ultimately, this is my responsibility and I’ll fix it. But now it’s gut check time. We’ve got to bring it Saturday at Oregon State.”
Sarkisian seemed particularly disturbed over the fact that running back Chris Polk carried the ball only nine times against the Trojans, running for a season-low 36 yards.
“Chris Polk having just nine carries isn’t good enough,” Sarkisian said. “He needs more than nine touches, that’s for sure. But that game (USC) just got away from us. We just couldn’t get the game going the way we wanted.”
Despite his 36 rushing yards against USC, Polk owns three of the top nine rushing seasons in Washington history.
NOTES: Washington defeated Oregon State 35-34 last year as Jake Locker matched a school record with five touchdown passes, four to Jermaine Kearse, a single-game UW record. Jacquizz Rogers, now with the Atlanta Falcons, ran for 140 yards and scored four TDs for the Beavers on runs of 6, 4, 10 and 2 yards. . . Of the 2-8 Beavers, Sarkisian said, “They’ve been a bit unlucky at times. But they play hard, and the young quarterback (redshirt freshman Sean Mannion) is throwing the ball around the field, and he’s got four good targets” . . . Mannion has thrown for 2,694 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also has tossed 15 interceptions . . .Washington is one of six Pac-12 teams to have attained bowl eligibility . . . The Huskies will not learn its bowl fate until after the conference championship game . . . Washington is an early, 3 1/2-point pick to beat the Beavers.