Thursday, September 26, 2013
SEATTLE — Keith Price can say it now: He didn’t trust his offensive line last season.
“At the quarterback position, you got to trust everybody,” the Washington senior quarterback said Monday. “It’s hard to throw a ball already having bad thoughts.”
After three games in 2012, the Huskies had surrendered eight sacks, which was a harbinger of a woeful season of pass protection in which they allowed 38 sacks.
It was the most sacks allowed in four years under coach Steve Sarkisian and offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto.
Washington struggled last season to replace guard Senio Kelemete, who was taken in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft.
And the offensive line lost three starters to injury during the season, which forced the Huskies to rely on four different combinations in the first four games. Through eight games, UW used six configurations on the O-line before settling on a five-man unit that started the final six games.
They plowed the way for running back Bishop Sankey to rush for 1,439 yards, the third-highest single season total in school history.
But Price and the passing game faltered.
He had fewer yards (2,726 from 3,063), touchdowns (19-33) and more interceptions (13-11) last year than he did during his breakout sophomore season.
“We take those things personally because his play for the most part is a direct reflection on us,” junior tackle Ben Riva said. “We made the point in the offseason that our season wasn’t good enough. We really made an effort during the offseason and in camp to really get him in rhythm and keep him in his rhythm mentally and physically.”
Price took most of the heat for Washington’s 7-6 season.
On Monday, he noted the different vibe around the 16th-ranked Huskies (3-0).
“A couple of weeks ago, I was answering questions about whether I’d be the starting quarterback,” he said, laughing. “Like I’ve always said, you got to trust the guys around you to play this position and my guys have been doing a great job.
“And the guys up front — for me that’s the biggest change from last year. They’re making this thing go.”
Washington’s new fast-paced offense operates exclusively from the shotgun formation, and Sarkisian worried about the quarterback-center exchange.
But junior Mike Criste, who made the conversion from guard to center, has been perfect on snaps.
“Mike has been very, very impressive,” Sarkisian said. “He’s probably been the most pleasant surprise of all of the guys up front.”
If Washington’s switch to an up-tempo offense was truly going to work, it would require the offensive line, which has three 300-pounders, to motor around the field like never before.
“At first I was like I’m wondering how our offensive line is going to hold up,” Price said. “Then we started doing our team runs and our offseason conditioning, and some of the linemen were moving.
“Everybody was making their times. They started trimming weight, and now you can see the results.”
Through three games, Washington ranks third in the NCAA in total offense, ninth in rushing offense and 17th in passing offense.
Unlike last season’s instability, the Huskies have started the same lineup on the O-line, which includes (from left to right) junior tackle Micah Hatchie, sophomore guard Dexter Charles, Criste, junior guard Colin Tanigawa and Riva.
“The biggest thing from last year to this year is we haven’t had the injuries that we had, and our communication is so much better than it was,” Hatchie said.
Washington has allowed three sacks, and Price admits “one of those was on me.” He’s averaging 293 yards per game while completing 77 percent of his passes.
“For the most part, I haven’t been touched all season,” Price said. “I trust those guys again. They’ve been doing an amazing job.
“I think the scheme has helped them. So they’re rolling right now. Hopefully they can keep it up.”