For most of this season, the greatest topic of discussion for the Husky football fanbase has been the quick decline of Keith Price. How he went from a guy that could be depended on for 250 yards and two or three scores to a guy that was producing more turnovers than scores. No longer did the offense seem to put up 30 points at will, rather, getting to 20 became a struggle, and it was only Bishop Sankey and the defense that kept the Huskies in games. Now, in his past two games, Price has gone 46/62 for 525 yards, seven touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Wow! The old Keith Price is back! It’s 2011 again! Except that those two opponents were Utah and Colorado, whose combined record this year is 5-17. So which Keith Price are we seeing? The 2011 guy with the bright smile and the effortless game or the 2012 Keith Price that seemed like such a disaster? Well, the real answer is that things are a lot more complicated than a tale of two Keiths.
For one, the difference between the 2011 and 2012 Keith Price may not be as simple as he was good and then he was bad. First, two veteran receivers, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, graduated. I, along with most others writing about the team, dismissed the impact of losing those two. They were old news, and Kasen Williams and ASJ were already starting to eclipse them by the end of the year. Turns out that going from 4 reliable targets to 2 reliable targets may have had a much greater impact than I assumed. Second, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier left for Alabama. At first, I once again figured it shouldn’t be too big of a deal. Sark is an offensive coach anyway, was my thinking. Well, looks like that may have been a bigger deal than I thought as well. Finally, there was the offensive line. To start out the year, it looked like it would be a veteran unit in 2012, a strength. Then four of the five guys projected to start in the spring ended up injured, and all of the sudden every player but senior center Drew Schaefer was a first time starter and a redshirt sophomore or younger. Early in the year, that line was basically a complete disaster, and it is not until now, towards the end of the year, that they have become a fairly good run blocking line and a somewhat adequate pass blocking unit.
So, though it’s nearly impossible to quantify the impact of these three issues, I believe it is very possible that the Keith Price of 2012 was really just the same Price from 2011, except that he had lost half of his experienced pass catchers, his offensive coordinator, and his trust in his blockers. And so he played badly. Mediocre at best against mediocre teams, and horribly against elite teams like LSU and Oregon. Those of us watching his struggles lamented that the old Price might never return. That the quarterback before us was somehow reduced to a lower form.
But then the brutal mid-season schedule let up. First, against California, Price played better. He still threw one pick for his one touchdown, but he seemed to have a greater ability to throw down field to his two stud targets, ASJ and Kasen. Then, the schedule got really soft, against Utah and Colorado, and Price pretty much murdered. Sure, it’s tough to tell how much of that success has been the lower level of opponent and how much has been real tangible progress for Price, but isn’t it possible that it’s a bit of both? That Price happens to be pulling himself out of the early season dumps partly because he is finding his game, partly because the line and the receivers are improving around him, and partly because the opponents are softer?
Now, with only the Apple Cup and a bowl game remaining, his one disastrous stat line is 2292 passing yards on 62% passing with 16 touchdowns and 10 picks. Not bad, not terrific. But, if we go ahead and assume that the suddenly potent Price throws for 250 yards with 2 touchdowns in both the Apple Cup and the Bowl game, which I believe is totally reasonable given the fact that he may do much better against a horrific WSU defense and may do a little worse if the bowl opponent is very good on defense, his final season statline will be 2792 with 20 touchdowns and 10 picks. When you compare that to the 3063 yards 33 touchdowns and 11 picks of 2011, I think it really puts things in perspective:
In 2011, Price was terrific. He had a shaky line, but a very talented group of receivers and a great running back in Chris Polk. He stepped right in and succeeded immediately, and his terrible defense often meant that he had to continue to throw and throw and throw until the very end of games, which helped pad his stats (see: Alamo Bowl). In 2012, Price experienced a down year. He started off with a ragtag offensive line that failed to protect him, only two proven receivers who were both themselves true sophomores, and virtually no running game, so he struggled monumentally. As the season went on, he continued to struggle, but his stats were kept slightly lower than they would have been because of the emergence of Bishop Sankey and a hard-nosed defense that led to a conservative, blue-collar brand of football that didn’t call for late game heaving. However, towards the end of the year the schedule got a little softer, the offensive evolved as offenses should after so many games together, and Price mostly returned to form in the final few games. He didn’t throw for quite as many yards or as many scores, but the final stats are respectable.
Looking forward to 2013, there will be a lot of hype around Washington. An offensive line that was thrown to the wolves this year will suddenly be an asset because of that extra year’s experience, and both Kasen and ASJ will probably be playing their last year in college before heading off to the NFL. Sankey will be coming off of a breakout year, and the defense will return at least 8 or so starters (who exactly you consider a “starter” on this defense depends) from what developed into a near-dominant unit. And, after a rocky year, I expect Price to return to his 2011 form. Go ahead and laugh at me if you disagree with everything I wrote about and think Price is still stuck in the 2011 doldrums, but I see his progress so far as it coincides with the overall progression of the team, and I think we all overreacted a bit, and that Price was down but not broken. I suppose only time will tell if I’m correct, and there’s still the possibility that Price lays an egg in the final two games of the year, but I just don’t think so. Comment below with your own opinion, and thanks for reading.