SEATTLE — Keith Price doesn’t need to step up.
He’d be more effective if he simply settled down.
The Washington quarterback is experiencing a crisis of good intentions, wanting so badly to excel, meet expectations and compensate for an injury-riddled offense’s shortcomings. As always, you can see it on his face. He has the worst poker face in college football, and that’s a wonderful thing when he’s smiling and living up to the nickname Teeth Price. Right now, though, he wears the look of frustration.
He’s Grief Price.
With his hat twisted backward and facial hair sprouting, Price wandered through his predicament Monday, searching for perspective. He knows the answers to why he’s struggling — he’s pressing, trying to do too much, playing undisciplined — but he can’t seem to get out of the funk.
His candor is refreshing, but he’s almost too self-aware. Two days after committing three turnovers in a 52-21 loss to Oregon, Price was speaking as if the game had ended just 10 minutes ago. Football players talk often about needing short memories. Price has been trying to unclog his mind for more than a month already.
As a result, we have the stunner of the college football season, at least locally: Price ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency.
Price, who set season school records for efficiency, touchdown passes and completion percentage a year ago, is sailing passes over the heads of open receivers, making poor reads and running recklessly with the football to try to extend plays and do something big. Injuries have robbed him of a stable offensive line, two running backs and a starting receiver. The offense looks nothing like the typical Steve Sarkisian offense. And Price wants to make it all better himself.
Which is impossible.
“I’m pressing too hard, and I’m trying to be something that I’m not,” Price admitted.
Frankly, Price isn’t good enough to be the Huskies’ superhero. No quarterback can handle that burden, really. There are some more equipped to elevate their teams, but a quarterback’s most fundamental responsibility is to reflect the talent around him. Everything is built atop that principle of game management. That’s how the efficiency improves, by making the right decisions and trusting in the system. And that leads to productivity, which is a quarterback’s gold standard.
The Huskies are inexperienced and inconsistent on offense, and it’s affecting Price’s performance and temperament. He needs to accept the offense will be a little junky all season. Once he learns to shake off the negatives and focus on the positives, he’ll realize that, with sophomores Kasen Williams, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and now Bishop Sankey forming a solid core of skilled players, the Huskies can be a functional offense. Price needs to play off those budding stars, make sure he puts them in positions to succeed and take advantage of opportunities that arise after defenses key on the Huskies’ best players.
This isn’t the big-play offense Price enjoyed in 2011 as a first-year starter. The depth and experience aren’t there. The patchwork offensive line is going to allow more defensive pressure. He needs to master the little things instead of trying to turn a 5-yard play into a 50-yarder.
And when he messes up, he needs to forget it. Immediately.
Sarkisian said Monday that Price is being too hard on himself, and emphasized that the Huskies’ passing-game issues involve more than Price.
There are worse problems to have than a quarterback who cares too much. When he’s at his best, Price is an extension of Sarkisian, his play-caller. The two were so in tune last season. Sarkisian knew Price could execute his vision, and it allowed the coach to be as creative and effective as he’s been in four years at Washington.
That is Price’s value to the Huskies: The fact you’re going to get exactly what you expect out of him. His greatness is transparent in that sense. The Huskies don’t need him to do more. They need him to return to being steady, which is less taxing yet more impacting.
“I’ve just got to focus on myself,” Price said. “I think that’s been the theme all year is not worrying about everyone else. It’s hard to do, and I’ve been struggling with that, and I have to enjoy the game. I don’t think I’ve been enjoying the game the past couple of weeks. I haven’t been playing with the same passion as last year, the same confidence, the same swagger.”
On Sunday, linebacker Princeton Fuimaono approached Price and said, “Hey, man, what is up with you? You don’t seem like yourself.”
Price took the message to heart. Teeth Price must find his way home. Grief Price is such a lackluster substitute.