Future at quarterback should be anything but certain for UW

Junior quarterback Keith Price scrambles while scanning the field during the fourth quarter. Price went 20-of-39 and threw two interceptions during the UW's loss in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas.

Photo by Josh Bessex

LAS VEGAS — In each of the final two contests of Washington’s 2012 football season, quarterback Keith Price was challenged to win the game. In both cases, momentum was firmly against the Huskies. Winning either would’ve been impressive.

But in neither case did Price so much as give the Huskies a shot, instead making foolish decisions that led to unnecessary, game-deciding turnovers.

Both turnovers cost the Huskies chances to win games they could have easily won with better quarterback play. Both turnovers raised the question: Would the UW be better off with someone else under center?

Head coach Steve Sarkisian, like all Pete Carroll disciples, incessantly extols the virtues of competition. Well, it’s time for Sarkisian to practice what he preaches and have a real, open quarterback competition in the spring.

At certain positions, it makes sense to have one star player take the majority of the reps in practice because it’s so obvious he’ll start. For the Huskies, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a good example. So is running back Bishop Sankey.

But not Price. Not anymore.

The Huskies have other options. Both Jeff Lindquist and Cyler Miles spent this past year — their first in college — redshirting to get bigger and learn the system. Both are very highly regarded, and both were named Most Valuable Player of national high-school all-star games.

They and current backup Derrick Brown each deserve as many snaps this spring as Price to prove their mettle as the best option for the team going forward. Any of the three could be what the Huskies need to be successful.

Price’s future at the position has been the elephant in the room all season. The MAACO Bowl Las Vegas simply took the animal out of its cage.

“When you look at the last two ballgames and combine the two, our inability to finish is pretty glaring,” Sarkisian said after the game. “That obviously will be a point of emphasis of ours as we head into the offseason.”

But the truth is, the passing game has been the biggest reason the Huskies haven’t been able to “finish” — or to put enough points on the board to avoid such tight finishes in the first place.

Yes, Price’s protection has been bad. But as the offensive line has gotten better over the course of the year, Price has gotten worse. He’s missed plays he would’ve made earlier in the year, and the passing game at the end of the season was nonexistent.

“Just keep grinding; that’s all I can do,” Price replied when asked how he can recapture his success of 2011. “Just keep working hard. But I guess I’ve got to work even harder and prepare myself at a higher level in the film room and get right mentally.”

But what if working hard isn’t enough? There’s no doubt Price has been working hard all season. The worry is that, after having taken so many hits, after having to throw so many balls away, Price has lost whatever it was that made him such a wizard on the field a year ago, when he set school records for passing touchdowns and quarterback rating.

Price did so much for the UW last season; who knows how many games the Huskies would have won without him after losing Jake Locker to the NFL?

But football isn’t a sentimental sport, and if a backup is better, Sarkisian’s responsibility is to play him.

The Huskies wasted this season. They wasted two wins over top-10 teams and they wasted a historically great performance by running back Sankey in the bowl game.

They can’t afford to waste next year, when the team will easily be the best of the Sarkisian era on paper. They can’t afford to waste what could be the last seasons for star underclassmen Sankey, Seferian-Jenkins, and Kasen Williams.

Price clearly has guts. His touchdown run with three seconds left in the half could only have been made by a player willing to completely sacrifice himself for his team. Everywhere the Huskies travel, the coaches and officials from other teams and conferences remark on how likable the Huskies’ quarterback is.

But it’s not enough. Not next year, not after a decade of waiting.

Price could certainly win the job early in the spring. The competition could bring out the best in Price and make him better, like we’re told it does at every other position. Every Husky fan should want that.

Hell, everyone should want that for a guy as friendly and candid as Price, who has been an example of how an athlete can be an ambassador for a university.

But sometimes the made-for-Hollywood script doesn’t play out. In a cutthroat business like college football, you can’t trade wins for class.

Reach columnist Jacob Thorpe at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @Jacob_B_Thorpe

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