It has been pretty standard all season long for Washington fans to rag on Keith Price. The redshirt junior took a pretty big step backwards from his monster 2011 season, and it’s so easy to wonder how good this year’s team could have been with the “old” Keith Price combined with the newly-stout 2012 defense. I mean, the Alamo Bowl would have been an easy win if Price’s 7 touchdowns had been backed up by a Justin Wilcox defensive unit, right?
So, the criticism of Price is fair. His 18 touchdowns are just over half of the 33 from 2011, but 11 interceptions were thrown in both years. Thing is, if we take the passing performances of the various quarterbacks that faced Boise State this season and combine them to make one passing season, instead of 18 touchdowns and 11 picks, the hypothetical Boise opponent would have totaled 3 touchdowns and 16 picks. If you’ve been reading up on Boise State in preparation for Saturday’s bowl game in Las Vegas, you may have already seen that the Broncos seriously only allowed three scores through the air all year long. I myself saw the stat several days ago, but that doesn’t mean it has gotten any less amazing.
Even Alabama, one of the most vaunted defenses in the country, has allowed 7. Florida, the closest to Boise, has given up 5. Does that mean Boise has the best passing defense in the country? No. Judging by opponent quarterback rating, Boise is 7th. If you’re going by completion percentage allowed, Boise is actually 53rd at 59%. Washington is actually much better in that category, allowing 53%, good for 10th in the country. Yards per game, the Broncos are tied for 4th. So, by pretty much no measure is Boise the best pass defense in the country. They’re certainly elite, top-10 in almost every category, except for the oddly high completion percentage. But that doesn’t really, in my mind, take away the intimidation factor of the measly three scores allowed through the air.
Of course, when comparing teams nationwide, it is fair to bring up the time honored issue: strength of schedule. Washington defended against passes from Pac-12 quarterbacks and covered Pac-12 pass catchers. Boise was luckier, playing only a single ranked team all year long. Hawaii, Colorado State, UNLV. The opponents aren’t impressive. Of course, Boise State has made it a habit to leave schedule critics looking foolish with big-time bowl wins against highly ranked opponents, to the point that I’m not sure it’s even fair to question them on it anymore.
So, I’m not sure if the magical three can be written off as a coincidence, a result of a weak schedule, or if it truly an indication of a dominant defensive backfield. Either way, it will be on Keith Price to put together a solid passing performance this Saturday, something so few Boise State opponents were able to do this year. If he can just manage more touchdowns than interceptions, I think that has to be seen as a victory. I’m not even sure that is realistic, given Price’s struggles, the lack of depth at receiver, and of course the talent of the Boise State secondary. Perhaps Washington will be different, but don’t expect any Alamo Bowl flashbacks in Vegas.