Price plays his hand, keeps his cool

Whatever you do, don't find yourself at a poker table with Keith Price. Or Cort Dennison, for that matter. Because if you do, you'll lose. I did. I got sandbagged, hoodwinked. I zigged, they zagged. All I know is that after Washington's 31-23 gut-check win over California at Husky Stadium Saturday, I won't get caught making the same mistake twice.

When Price - who threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns (that's 14 in four games, for anyone keeping track) against the Bears - came out to Monday's practice after proclaiming his left knee to be about half there, I believed him. I got suckered right into it. There he was, the sophomore standout, gingerly jogging around, not doing too much.

Of course. How could he? The brace that had once been on his right knee was now moved over to his left knee. And his right knee was still heavily supported by tape, bailing wire, stickem, and anything else the trainers could cobble together. He looked a fright. He was the Tin Man. He was basically playing on one leg.

Oh, how gullible I was. Snookered by a college kid. I'm supposed to be above such sillyness.

The week went on, and Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian tried to allay my fears. He told me Price looked better this week than at the same time last week. Heresy! Spin! The talk of a coach trying to say the right things to keep his quarterback's head in the game. Or…

He was just telling the truth.

Nah.

I still went into Saturday's game expecting to see Nick Montana at some point. Even the buff Jake Locker couldn't withstand the punishment of an entire season - bruised ribs being his achilles' heel. And with Price, he even admitted it! He talked about how it wasn't even the massive hits of guys like Jared Crick that created his nearly ambulatory state; he was doing it to himself.

And yet there Price was, nimbly moving through the trash during the first quarter of the game, stepping one way, sliding another. He kept his cool, even when the defense had just done their best matador job to help Cal's Zach Maynard and Keenan Allen turn in the longest pass play in Bears' history.

The defense had me fooled too. They lured me in with their futility, with their Keystone Cops routine I'd seen for years on end, and then they laid the hammer to Cal in the second half, only giving up three points in the final thirty minutes. They capped the day off with a goal-line stand worthy of a team searching for answers on how to turn the corner. They may have just come up with a couple on this day.

"I continue to be thoroughly impressed with our football team's resiliency," Sarkisian said after the win. "Maybe there's something in the water up here I didn't know about when I took the job, but this group of guys - they've got huge hearts, tough-minded, their ability to deal with adversity and focus on the task at hand, which is the next snap - it's really pretty amazing to me."

Sark admitted they were far from perfect; the Huskies gave up a gaudy 349 yards to Maynard, they turned the ball over twice, and they were out-possessed by nearly five minutes. They started the game out by surrendering a ridiculous pass from Maynard to Allen on a 3rd and 20. It was deja vu all over again, to quote the great Bard of the Bronx.

But then something happened. Price didn't imitate John Navarre as I suspected he would; in fact quite the opposite. Sarkisian said he'd get a couple of first downs with his legs, and he proved prescient. It took Washington all of three plays to march 66 yards, the capper going to Austin Seferian-Jenkins from 20 yards out, the beneficiary of some neat scramble work by Price to find the big frosh tight end rumbling loose for six.

"Early on, things weren't clean, and he had to buy time," Sarkisian said. "That's his game, so we're going to have to live with some times where he's scrambling around and he might take a sack. We're going to have to live with some times when he flushes and runs up through the pocket and they cause the fumble…but how many other plays does he make for us with his feet to buy time to create plays for us down the field."

And create he did. The 70-yard pass play to Chris Polk literally gutted the Bears' defense; it was a call Sarkisian said he saw during their week of preparation, and the Huskies executed it to perfection. "The tendency is to underthrow that throw," Sark said. "And if you do, the linebacker that's chasing him can make that play. We always say 'throw it through him, not to him', and he did exactly that."

For those that thought Price would succumb to the withering pressure put on by arguably the best defensive front in the Pac-12, step up to the front of the line. OK, that's me. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Price would show the ability to stick in the pocket with unbelievable poise when it mattered most and deliver a strike through the heart of the Cal defense that would prove to be the difference in the game.

Price played possum until his inner piranha decided to show up. He not only took a large chunk out of my prediction, my pride AND my perspective, he also handed it back to me on a platter, all the while grinning that trademark grin of his. Teeth, indeed.

"He's so accurate," Sarkisian said, about ready to throw his signal-caller the ultimate compliment. "He's amazingly accurate. I thought he'd be accurate, but it was just a matter of how he would fit within the system and me calling the plays and what this would feel like. But he's playing at about as high a level as you can play as a quarterback right now..tip my hat to Andrew Luck and Barkley and all the other guys in our conference, but the level of play in which Keith Price is playing at is as high as anybody in our conference."

He also plays a mean game of pigskin poker too, coach. Don't get caught at the table with anything less than aces full with Mr. Price, because he's liable to lift your lunch money while laughing all the way to the winner's circle.

"My adrenaline was pumping pretty good," Price said afterward.  "You know, anything for the win, anything.  I'm willing to do anything."

I'm sold. Do you think I'll question his toughness, ability or durability again?

Only if I want to lose what little is left of my dignity.


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