Again bowl-eligible, the Washington Huskies are 6-4 staring at 8-4 — if only they can keep their eyes open through the final games against Pac-12 Conference wastrels Colorado and Washington State.
Speaking of states of consciousness, turns out Keith Price was only napping, not in a coma — at least based on the readings from Saturday night’s 34-15 win over Utah. In the final game at their downtown temp home, the Clink, wrapped around the farewell to the final 11 players who survived the 0-12 debacle that ended the Tyrone Willingham era, Price revived his swagger.
“Yeah, a little bit,” he said, beaming again, reminding all why his nickname is “Teeth.” After completing 24 of 33 passes for a season-high 277 yards, two passing touchdowns, one rushing TD and no turnovers, the junior quarterback delivered in his 10th game what had been expected from the beginning.
In his defense, a lot changed had changed around him. In his responsibility, he took the changes — and himself — far too seriously. He’s not developed the bullet-proof undercoating found with, say, Brett Favre.
“I thought it was by far and away Keith’s best game of the year,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I’ve kind of felt that coming over the last couple of weeks. I had to remind myself this week how much things had changed for him. When he got in the huddle (this season), there were a lot of new faces in there.”
Some of those new faces responded well against Utah, particularly the offensive line. A patchwork group, owing to injuries, of freshmen and sophomores, it took on an aggressive Utah front seven and held up. Price had to do a lot of scrambling and was sacked four times, but he also stayed in the pocket for deeper throws more than in any other game.
The line also popped running back Bishop Sankey for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. His fifth 100-yard game pushed him past the 1,000-yard mark for the season, the 16th time in UW history that’s happened, becoming the 10th back to do so. No one figured him for a worthy successor to Chris Polk, now in the NFL, including his coach.
“If you had told me in July on vacation,” said Sarkisian, “that Bishop Sankey was going to get a thousand yards, I would have said, ‘How’s that going to happen?'”
Another way to look at it: “The rushing game,” said Price,” is the quarterback’s best friend.”
The friendship made for the biggest offensive output of the season, surpassing 21 points for the first time (except for FCS lightweight Portland State) and getting 447 yards against a respectable defense.
As big a part of Washington’s third consecutive win was a third consecutive stout effort from the defense, which poured down on Utah’s tall, slow freshman quarterback, Travis Wilson. Sacked three times and picked once, he completed just 8 of 23 passes for a meager 55 yards, leaving the rest of the offense to stalwart running back John White (145 yards and both touchdowns).
An intriguing wrinkle was added when Austin Seferian-Jenkins showed up as a defensive end. On the same night he became the most productive tight end in UW history — as a sophomore — with 96 career catches (nine Saturday for 99 yards) he took eight to 10 plays as a pass rusher, playing defense for the first time since his freshman year in high school.
“He has excellent skills to be a defensive end,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t know how effective he was doing it, but it’s all hands on deck for us now.”
The makeovers of Price and Seferian-Jenkins were the marquee parts of a night of superlatives. Now comes the hard part — convincing the Huskies that the final two games against the Pac-12’s worst teams are the hard part.