Huskies Need To Keep Paying the Price

SEATTLE - Eric Kiesau has seen all this before. The Washington Offensive Coordinator has been witness to quarterbacking meltdowns, especially during his time at Colorado - one that arguably led to the head coach being fired before the end of the 2010 season.

"When I was at Colorado with Cody Hawkins…the situation is a little bit similar," Kiesau said Wednesday when asked about the struggles Washington junior signal-caller Keith Price is currently experiencing. "I've been down this road before, and hope it's a road I never have to go down again."

No kidding. When looking back at Hawkins - the son of then-Colorado Head Coach Dan Hawkins, his career looks pretty solid on paper; he's the current all-time leading passer in the history of the school. He's also thrown the most touchdowns in CU history. So what happened to cause Hawkins to lose favor? This is a case where the stats don't tell anywhere near the full story.

In 2008, Dan Hawkins pulled the redshirt off of Tyler Hansen in the seventh game of the season, and the very next game CU lost 58-0 at #16 Missouri - a game Hansen started. The very first series? Hansen recovered his own fumble and then the Buffs couldn't field a fourth-down punt snap, and the Tigers started the game at the CU 5-yard line. Starting game eight, CU went 1-4 with the only win coming in a 28-24 nail-biter over Iowa State.

The following year, Hawkins won the starting job over Hansen but again struggled mightily in the first five games. Ironically enough, it was identical 38-14 wins by Texas in '08 and '09 that really sealed Hawkins' fate. Hansen started the rest of the season with a game six upset win over #17 Kansas but only won one game from there on out - a one-point triumph over Texas A&M.

Hawkins was given another chance to right the ship on his CU tenure in 2010 and made the change to Hansen instead of stubbornly sticking with his son and two years of sub-par play. In game five of the 2010 season, Hawkins replaced an ineffective Hansen en route to a 26-0 loss to #24 Missouri in Columbia. Hansen started the next game, a six-point loss at home to Robert Griffin III and Baylor. From game seven on, Hawkins finished Colorado's 2010 campaign when Hansen suffered a ruptured spleen. The verdict? 2-4, with wins over Iowa State and Kansas State at home and big losses to Oklahoma and Nebraska. The next week Hawkins was fired less than 72 hours after what was the biggest come-from-behind win in Kansas history.

Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian has talked time and time again about the quarterback position, and how it's the most important position in all of sports. Looking at the Colorado snapshot, it's not hard to come to that conclusion. From the game where Hawkins used two quarterbacks - the 2008 Texas game to the 2010 Kansas game - Colorado went 8-21. It's no wonder he got the axe, and looking back at the numbers it's a bit depressing - especially on offense. The Buffs averaged an anemic 22 points per game during those three years.

What's even more depressing if you are a Washington fan is that the Huskies are averaging less than 21 points right now under Sark's play-calling and Price's execution. Obviously it's unfair to pin that all on one player, but expectations are the 800-pound gorilla on Price's back right now - and there's no question Price is weighed down.

"It's really the obvious…Coach Sark and I and Keith were talking the other day. When he was a little boy, he chose to be a quarterback," Kiesau said of Price. "When things go well, you're the greatest thing on earth; when things aren't going so well - whether it's our fault or not - we get the blame. And that's part of the position, and we have to understand that. That's something he's having to cope with because last year they were so good he never had to deal with the negative. And that's what we're dealing with right now."

Ball security has been the biggest culprit letting Price down right now; his three turnovers versus Arizona were crippling. Price has been responsible for 10 turnovers the last three games, and even though a couple of those turnovers were just bad luck they simply mask a bigger issue; Price's inability to run Sark's offense effectively and Sark's inability to play-call for the offense's vast deficiencies.

"I think it was rough the last couple of weeks. I think he's coming out of that," Kiesau said of Price.

But for those Washington fans fed up with their quarterback, don't give up on the young man just yet - for a few reasons. First, Price is the ultimate competitor. The reason he's suffering right now isn't for a lack of competitive spirit or effort; in fact it might be hurting him more than anything. Pissed off isn't his modus operandi, but that hasn't stopped him from showing visible frustration at times this season.

"I just want him to believe me. I want him to believe me," Sarkisian said of Price after Washington's 52-17 loss at Arizona. "I want him to take the information and the things that I'm giving him and trust me that what I'm telling him is the truth, and believe in what I'm asking of him to do and go out and do his best to try and do that. And if it doesn't work - as I told him - I'll be the first one to say, 'Keith, I was wrong. I'm sorry. I should have done a better job for you'."

"The team is looking up to me and the offense is looking up to me…just keep striving," Price said this week as the team prepared to host #7 Oregon State Saturday night. "He knows that things are going to get on track for me and he knows all the hard work that I've been putting in. He said that the ball is going to bounce in my court."

Secondly, Price has never been at the center of an offense's struggles before; even when the team was having their share of issues in 2011 it wasn't due to Price. Even in losses Washington was scoring points and Price was doing his part - often almost literally on one leg. Scoring wasn't the problem, it was stopping the other team from finding the end zone via gravity. So the junior has a track record of success before - it's not as if he hasn't found the end zone before or made big plays.

"I think we went through a run about the midpoint of last season that it wasn't great, either, you know," Sarkisian said. "Yet we found a way to re-energize it and close out the season really well."

Third - and perhaps most importantly - he's their best option, by far. This is the one element that makes the Washington quarterbacking dilemma much different than what Kiesau experienced at Colorado; CU took the radical step of burning a redshirt after half the season had been played. Things have to be seriously screwed up for that to happen, but it's clear in hindsight that Hawkins was grasping at straws.

Don't look for Sarkisian to show a similar vein of desperation. Not only does he believe that Price is his best quarterback right now, he's staking his future on it. Anyone looking to backup Derrick Brown should go back to the Portland State game to realize just how green the redshirt frosh still is. As poor as Price's ball security has been the last three games, Brown fumbled twice in three plays against the Vikings and then got picked off in his next possession. Again, that was Portland State, not Oregon State. Brown is not the answer yet. Given another year of play and preparation at the college level, Brown might give Sarkisian room to pause - but not now.

That leaves Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist, the two true freshmen. If Sarkisian had decided on a plan to split up the two from a class standpoint, he would have played one of them much, much earlier. As it is, the odds of Sark burning a redshirt in game eight are none. He just won't do it - and rightly so. Even (knock on wood) if Price was hurt for the rest of the year, Brown would be forced into action and then one of the walk-ons, like Thomas Vincent, would be his backup.

There may have been a thought of using Miles or Lindquist earlier in the year, but Sark has gone past the point of no return when it comes to playing them. If either one plays at this point, it would be a clear sign that he's lost the team and is in the woods when it comes to finding answers.

But he's not there. "I'll be proud of our guys when this thing does get turned around, because I think these moments for a football team are not only season-changing experience, but they are program-changing experiences and life-changing experiences for the individuals involved," Sarkisian said Monday. "I think that we've all gone through it. The greatest quarterbacks have all gone through it sometimes. And the best ones have found a way out of it. And I believe Keith will, because he's a really good player." Top Stories