It was a disappointing year for QB Keith Price - Scott Olmos-US PRESSWIRE
As we hit the home stretch in our series of articles grading the 2012 Huskies by position groups, we tackle the most scrutinized position in the game - quarterback. As Keith Price discovered, it can be tough to follow-up a great debut.
Heading into the 2012 season, few Husky fans had major concerns about Keith Price and the offense. Sure, there were questions about how the team would replace the "War Daddy", aka stud RB Chris Polk, and the #2 and #8 all-time leading receivers had graduated (Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar respectively), but the trigger-man for a potent 2011 offense returned in Price. He had blown-away modest expectations in his debut season as a starter in 2011, throwing for a single season school record 33 TD's and setting new single-season highs for completion pct. (66.9) and passer efficiency rating (161.1), and his 3,063 yards was 2nd only to Cody Pickett's 4,458 (!) in 2002. And he did all that while playing on two gimpy knees most of the season - after getting nearly a month to recover, all he did was outplay Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl, passing for 438 yards and 4 TD's and running for another 3 TD's. Certainly a Price that was a year wiser and presumably healthy would be even better, right? Well...
Kirk: As Price found out the hard way in 2012, a great debut can be tough to top. His fantastic 2011 season set expectations sky-high for him, and even led to talk of Price being a dark-horse 2012 Heisman candidate if the Huskies could manage 9+ wins. Unfortunately, that wasn't to be. While his numbers on the surface were respectable (2,726 yards, 19 TD's, 60.9% completions, 122.5 passer efficiency) they were a major let-down from 2011, and his 13 interceptions and multiple lost fumbles were a big problem, especially in losses to USC, WSU and Boise State.
Of course the question begs to be asked: how much was this the fault of Price, and how much was the fault of problems with other areas of the offense? His pass protection behind a rag-tag OL gutted by injuries was terrible - Price rarely had the luxury of several seconds to throw; he was sacked nearly 3 times per game, and when he wasn't sacked he was getting chased out of the pocket and often taking hits as he released the ball. Sark's offense features a heavy dose of play-action with double-moves by the WR's; without time to throw, this part of the playbook becomes useless. Price wasn't helped by a WR group that struggled to help him out when he was scrambling; Sark mentioned many times over the course of the season that they needed to get better at running with Price and coming back to the QB to give him a bail out option; instead, Price frequently had to throw the ball away to the sidelines.
The terrible pass-protection forced Sark to adjust his play-calling - bubble screens & quick hitches became a much bigger part of the playbook, and while this helped Price keep a respectable completion percentage, it tanked his yards per attempt as these plays typically resulted in short yardage. Price also wasn't helped by a number of drops from his receivers, often at critical points where a catch would extend a drive or result in a long gain or a TD. It was clear Price had little confidence in his receivers other than Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Kasen Williams.
On the other hand, Price bears a lot of responsibility himself. He was too often far too careless with the football, forcing throws or not tucking the ball when scrambling. He had some critical mind-bogglingly stupid interceptions - most will recall his picks at the end of the WSU and Boise State games, plays you'd expect a raw Freshman to make, not a seasoned 4th year Junior. He appeared to lose confidence in his play calls, and he frequently didn't see open receivers, or waited too long to pull the trigger on open routes allowing defenders to close to the ball.
I have a strong suspicion that Price wasn't close to 100% physically in 2012. He did not look as quick as he did in 2011, and by the end of the season he resembled a gimpy Joe Namath at the end of his NFL career - it was painful to watch him run at times. His mechanics were not as good the year before, and while some of that no doubt was him having no confidence in his pass protection, I wonder if his knees were preventing him from having a proper base under him to throw.
He was able to survive the season, and that allowed Sark the luxury of redshirting both Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist. Despite Price's struggles for large stretches of the season, backup Derrick Brown saw only limited mop-up duty in 3 games. Brown will need a good Spring or risk seeing himself buried on the depth charts.
Ryan Priest: Remember when I said that no position group frustrated Husky fans more than the offensive line? Well, I lied. After an epic debut season in 2011 (33 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and the nation's seventh-best passer rating) and an even more Herculean seven-touchdown effort in the Alamo Bowl during which he outplayed Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III, second-year starter Keith Price entered the 2012 season as one of the most heralded Washington quarterbacks in memory, and was mentioned as a potential dark horse Heisman candidate by more than a few pundits. For the first two series of the season, he looked the part, too: Against San Diego State, Price missed on his first throw before connecting on his next 11 to give UW a 14-0 lead following its first two possessions.
Soon after, though, running back Jesse Callier and right tackle Ben Riva went down with injuries, and UW didn't score another offensive touchdown for the next seven quarters. With the exception of the Utah game, the offense never again displayed the offensive efficiency that it did in the opening quarter of the season debut. Price's drop in accuracy (60.9 percent in 2012 versus 66.9 percent in 2011) can be attributed largely to the number of times that he was forced to throw the ball away after being flushed from the pocket, but considering that UW's passing attack for almost the entire season consisted of high-percentage slant, hitch and bubble screen routes, it's nevertheless concerning that he took such a significant step back in his production.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Price's season was his tendency to fumble the ball at key times (in the red zone against USC) or making poor decisions to throw the ball that resulted in unnecessary interceptions (the first play of overtime in the Apple Cup, and the final possession of the Las Vegas Bowl). With Elite 11 QBs Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist having taken their redshirt years, there's no reason to not give them a chance in 2013 should Price falter. However, Steve Sarkisian has shown himself to be nothing if not loyal to his quarterback, and will likely give Price more chances than casual fans would prefer should he stumble during the season. I'm in the camp that believes that an increasingly mature offensive line and upgrades at the receiver positions will pave the way for Price to return to his 2011 vintage, but there's no question that the 2012 season is one that both he and fans would like to put behind, and the sooner the better.
Jack Follman: Price never stepped up all year and his only really good statistical games were Portland State and Colorado. He turned the ball over at the absolute worst times and his general inability to handle a rush or find open receivers cost the Huskies a couple of wins.
Jeffrey Gorman: Keith Price arrived at the University of Washington as a hold over from Tyrone Willingham's last recruitment class and carried with him little fan fare. However, he did look spry and capable of being a playmaking quarterback in his first start taking over for an injured Jake Locker at Oregon in the 2010 season. In 2011, he took a huge step forward and shattered nearly every single season quarterback record in Husky history, throwing for 33 touchdowns and capping his season with a spectacular 7-touchdown performance against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.
This season, things were dramatically different. His final season statistics were not as horrible as one might think based on the criticism thrown towards him. Completing 61% of your passes for 2,700 yards and 19 touchdowns is still a decent season. That being said, Price was far from the dynamic playmaker that dazzled fans during the 2011 season. His struggles this past year were partially his fault, but so much can be levied on the patchwork offensive line that couldn't keep him upright and no one besides ASJ and Kasen Williams catching balls. Personnel losses weren't the only thing holding Keith back; he also lost his offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and he never really jived with Eric Kiesau, who has since moved to coaching receivers.
Ultimately, Keith Price was beat up physically, mentally, and emotionally trying to lead this young Husky offense. Unfortunately, even when he did have a run game to lean on, and an offensive line to rely on he still forced balls and made mistakes. If he was flushed from the pocket, he would often just throw the ball the away instead of trying find an open receiver down field. He often looked defeated and didn't play with the same loose swagger that made him so successful in 2011.
Overall it was a very disappointing season for Keith Price. Remember when he was supposed to be a dark horse for the Heisman? That idea was blown by Week 2 when the team was humbled at LSU. He might have had another great season if the offensive line had remained healthy, and some receivers stepped up for the injured guys. That didn't happen, and Keith Price's play suffered.