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November 8, 2010

New QB tunes out distractions in first start

The boos rained down on the Washington Huskies.

Even a few dog biscuits came raining down, too.

None of this could wipe away the smile from Keith Price's face Saturday as he stepped into the middle of a bright yellow sea of Oregon Duck fans who filled Autzen Stadium.

"A lot of fans were just yelling my name," Price said. "I didn't really care. I was just out there having fun."

If the Huskies could take anything from Keith Price's first college start against Oregon Saturday, they got validation that they're new, young leader has nerves of steel.

Instead of tightening up from the pressure of his opponent and his surroundings, Price soaked it all in and had a blast.

The 53-16 loss to No. 1-ranked Oregon wasn't the result that neither Price nor Washington wanted, but the leadership and composure from the Huskies' redshirt freshman quarterback was something that left an impression on his teammates and UW coach Steve Sarkisian and gave Husky fans a sense that there will be life after Jake Locker.

The Huskies have a bye this week and won't play again until Nov. 18 when they host UCLA on a rare Thursday night game.

Whether or not senior Jake Locker is healthy enough to return from his cracked rib injury to play in his final home game, Price will prepare this week as if he'll be called upon again, but this time with one big-time experience behind him.

"I played OK," Price said of the Oregon game. "I left a lot of plays out there. A lot of yards out there. I've just got to grow from it and learn from it."

With Locker mentoring him from the sideline, Price kept Washington in the game for 21/2 quarters.

His 17-yard touchdown pass to D'Andre Goodwin cut Oregon's lead to 18-13 in the third quarter. In the second quarter, he had a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse called back by a penalty for having illegal receiver downfield.

"He was telling me, 'Stay composed. These guys are looking up to you. Keep being a rock in the huddle,'" Price said of Locker's advice.

Price finished 14 of 26 for 127 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He missed some throws and had several others dropped.

But one thing he didn't lack was confidence and a belief that Washington could beat Oregon even with most of the record 60,017 fans in attendance rooting against him.

"We walked in here knowing what we were getting ourselves into," Price said. "We had nothing to lose. We were just trying to pull off something special."

Trailing 18-6 at halftime with several missed opportunities to reflect on, Price still thought the 35-point underdogs could pull off an upset.

"I thought we had a great chance," he said. "I was telling my receivers and linemen, 'Hey, let's keep doing what we've been doing. Let's keep it close and let's just have fun.'"

Even when the game started getting out of hand, the Huskies still tried to follow Price's advice and appear loose and unaffected.

"I thought Keith did a great job out there," Kearse said. "We've just got to help him out more. The plays were there. He made good throws. We've just got to make those plays."

The first play call of the game called for Price to hit Kearse deep. But Price got hit as he released the ball and Kearse, who was several steps behind the defender, watched an underthrown pass get knocked away.

"I wanted to score on that play so much," Price said. "I got hit. I've still got to make that throw. We might end up 7-0 on that play. You never know."

Sarkisian saw a lot of good things in Price's first start and also saw ample room for improvement. He said in time, Price will be able to make more secondary reads.

"I thought first of all from a mentality perspective making your first career start against the No. 1 team in the country at Autzen Stadium, which as we all know can be a tough environment to play in, I thought he handled himself really well," Sarkisian said. "He looked composed. We didn't have a bunch of missed calls and different things, alignment things, where he was struggling in the huddle. We took a couple of delay of games late in the game which was a little out of the norm because I thought early in the ball game he had real command.

"All in all, if you had told me that would be his first ball game in Autzen Stadium against the No. 1 team in the country, I'd take it.'"

Locker will stay off the practice field this week and his status will be evaluated Saturday to see if he can resume practice and get ready for what will surely be an emotional game against UCLA.

Sarkisian said that Locker will not start against UCLA unless he practices leading up to the game.

"This isn't going to be an emotional decision, one that because Jake wants to play and his heart's in it and all that," Sarkisian said. "He wanted to play Saturday against Oregon. We've got to make an educated decision here, what our medical staff tells us, from a health perspective, where he's at. He and his parents and ourselves collaborating on this and making a decision for him, and his health, and also for our football program of where he's at. That's how we'll do it. It will be a calculated, educated decision."

And if Locker doesn't play, Price will be ready to go. And will surely be smiling.

"If we get Jake back, that's great, we'd love to have him, he's a fantastic football player," Sarkisian said. "But if we don't, that doesn't mean we can't win the game. And if we do, that doesn't mean we automatically win the game. We've got to prepare as a football team for this ball game next Thursday night."


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