SEATTLE — Keith Price threw 432 passes in 2012. Two of those, the final passes thrown in each of Washington’s final two games, provided the definition of his entire junior season.
His final throw in the Apple Cup against Washington State: intercepted. His final throw against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl: intercepted. The result of both games: losses.
If Washington is going to leave behind the seven-win plateau it’s been stuck on for the past three seasons, it’ll need Price to be more like the quarterback he was in 2011 and make sure his performances from 2012 become an afterthought.
“I just want to get back to myself and playing the way I’m capable of playing and being better than I’ve ever been,” Price said.
After a sophomore season where Price vaulted himself into the national conversation of young quarterbacks with a bright future, his junior year was a significant step backward. He went from setting a school record for touchdown passes in a season and outplaying Heisman winner Robert Griffin III in a bowl game as a sophomore, to making continual costly mistakes as a junior.
There were many reasons for his struggles, but all circle back to trust. He didn’t trust an offensive line decimated by injuries. He didn’t trust his pass catchers, outside of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams.
Price was blessed as a sophomore to have a future NFL running back in Chris Polk and NFL receiver in Jermaine Kearse that he could always turn to, along with still having Williams and Seferian-Jenkins. He also had a solid offensive line protecting him.
But most important, Price played his sophomore season with the intent of proving others wrong. He wanted to show that coach Steve Sarkisian was correct in picking Price instead of Nick Montana as the Huskies starter. The result was 33 touchdown passes versus 11 interceptions.
Before fall camp began, Sarkisian pointed to a chair in his old office where he and Price began the process of rehabilitating after the final two games of 2012.
“I told him, ‘Keith I want you to know I’m here for you, I’m standing with you. I’m in the bunker with you and we’re going to fight our way out of here together and you’re not by yourself,’ ” Sarkisian recalled. “That was the biggest deal to me. I wanted him to know I wasn’t giving up on him.”
Price wasn’t awful in either of the Huskies’ final two games, but when it came time to make critical decisions, he failed.
The first came in overtime of the Apple Cup after Washington had blown an 18-point fourth-quarter lead. On the first play of overtime, Price decided not to take a sack as he was pulled down by Logan Mayes and tried to get rid of the ball. It fell into the arms of Kalafitoni Pole, who nearly returned it for a game-ending touchdown, only to be caught at the 5. Andrew Furney’s field goal then clinched the rivalry victory.
The second came against Boise State, the Huskies’ opponent to open this season next Saturday night. Washington was driving for a potential game-winning field goal attempt when Price tried to force a third-down throw across the middle to Cody Bruns. The pass was intercepted and Washington’s season ended with a thud.
“There was some serious soul-searching I’ve been doing the whole offseason. I think about it every day. This is what I’m here to do and I understand I’m probably the most scrutinized player on the team. I take that, but the guys around me have been great. They’ve been supportive and they’ve gotten better,” Price said.
In an effort to have Price playing more in the flow of the game, the Huskies are trying to speed up their offense.
They intend to use more no-huddle, simplifying calls and reads for Price so he’s reacting to what he sees and not overanalyzing. There is also more experience around him. The offensive line should be more solidified, Price has Bishop Sankey behind him at running back coming off a nearly 1,500-yard season, and the Huskies receivers have more experience.
Price, meanwhile, has appeared to regain his confidence.
“What is cool for me is I feel like I have the guy back who has something to prove,” Sarkisian said. “And who has a chip on his shoulder and I love the look in his eye and I’m as excited as anybody to see what he’s going to look like.”