Keith Price had no shortage of detractors in his junior season. Saturday’s loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl will only fuel those detractors for the eight months until UW sees BSU again to open 2013.
Price’s final pass was forced into traffic, while trying to lead the Huskies into field goal range trailing 28-26. Boise State’s Jeremy Ioane intercepted it, giving the Broncos their fifth straight 11-plus-win season and relegating Washington to 7-6 for a third consecutive.
It was the second Husky loss in as many tries sealed with a Price interception. The junior threw one in overtime of the Apple Cup, which allowed rival Washington State to kick a field goal for the win.
The months leading to 2013 will be filled with much questioning of the Huskies’ quarterback situation. Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley got it started in earnest. What a reversal from a year ago, when Price was regularly touted in the 2012 offseason as the conference’s second best quarterback, coming off a campaign in which experts ranked him highly among Pac-12 snap-takers.
The big question mark on the UW offense was at running back, where workmanlike Chris Polk was NFL-bound. Instead, Bishop Sankey broke out as a bona fide star. He surpassed 1400 yards rushing and scored 16 touchdowns, going for 205 and reaching the end zone in the Las Vegas Bowl. In most any other league, Sankey would have been a 1st Team All Conference honoree, but played in the long shadows of Kenjon Barner, Stepfan Taylor, Ka’Deem Carey and Johnathan Franklin.
The sophomore Sankey won’t be overshadowed entering 2013. His outstanding showing in the Las Vegas Bowl — which also included six receptions for 74 yards — will stay fresh in media and coaches’ minds. It was indicative of how he’s performed most of 2012. Unfortunately for a Washington offense that averaged just 24 points per game, 88th in the FBS and ninth in the Pac-12, Price’s bowl outing reflected much of his campaign, too.
Price showed flashes of the ability that made him such a celebrated quarterback in 2011. His touchdown rush before halftime was gutsy. His pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the third quarter was precisely placed. But Price threw more interceptions than touchdowns, and was left often scrambling for the down’s life.
Price was sacked four times on Saturday, extending the Huskies’ season-long yield to 38, 103rd worst among FBS teams. The problems Price struggled through this campaign were largely the result of offensive line woes, an issue that doesn’t just instantly resolve itself with a change at quarterback. Finding talented tight end Seferian-Jenkins and leading overall receiver Kasen Williams is no easy feat without adequate protection.
Quarterbacks will oftentimes bear the brunt of criticisms that should be directed to the offensive line — Jay Cutler, anyone? — but replacing the quarterback is such a much simpler fix. But it’s not the right one for Washington.
Steve Sarkisian returns several key contributors next season. Sankey, Williams and Seferian-Jenkins all have eligibility remaining. A defense that was completely revamped in 2012 excelled, and returns players like John Timu, Shaq Thompson, Sean Parker and Marcus Peters.
The defensive resurgence also shows Sarkisian’s ability to make wholesale and effective changes to units struggling. The Huskies improved their points per game allowed by nearly two touchdowns from 2011 to 2012; why can’t the line give Price a safer pocket from which to operate?
Getting over the seven-win hump in 2013 is a must for this program to take that next step to returning to national prominence. Replacing a quarterback responsible for leading two of those teams into bowl games won’t hurry along that progression.