SEATTLE — The trademark smile was still there when Washington quarterback Keith Price met the media following Saturday night's 21-12 win over San Diego State.
But his words betrayed his look as Price put a decidedly downcast spin on his performance against the Aztecs.
“Obviously I didn't perform the way that I expected,” Price said. “I haven't played that bad of a ballgame in a long time. I've just got to get back on my horse, and I promise you I will play better next week.”
Price was hardly bad, completing 25 of 35 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown without an interception.
But he lamented not being able to make more big plays — or lead UW to any offensive points after the first two possessions.
“I've just got to keep my cool,” he said. “I think a lot of times I made poor reads, and I think two or three times I escaped the pocket a little bit early. So I've just got to do a better job of that and trust my O-linemen.”
In fact, the offensive woes turned the game into a surprising defensive struggle, with Washington's new-look defense able to hold off the Aztecs.
“It's good to win and good to be 1-0 and win a different style of game than we are accustomed to playing around here,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian. “We had to rely on our defense. Our offense sputtered a bit, and to find a way to win that type of a game for us was encouraging.”
Indeed it was. SDSU's 12 points were the fewest UW has allowed since a 19-7 win over Nebraska in the 2010 Holiday Bowl, and its 327 total yards were far below the 453.3 average the Huskies allowed last year, which was the most in school history. SDSU's yards included 47 on a second-quarter touchdown pass on a trick play in which the Aztecs hid a receiver near the sideline, a move that Sarkisian later said he thought was illegal.
UW needed the defensive breakout with its offense growing stagnant as the game wore on — the Huskies had just 108 yards in the second half.
More of a culprit than Price may have been an inability to run the ball, as the Huskies had just 106 yards rushing for the game — 32 of them on 17 attempts in the second half of what was the first game of the post-Chris Polk era.
The Huskies will need a better rushing game to survive the looming gauntlet, beginning with a trip this week to Louisiana State, something Sarkisian acknowledged after the game.
“We should run the ball better than we did,” he said. “We've got to find our identity in the run game — who are we? And how are we going to become that? Where our run game is, I don't know if we're going to lead the country in rushing, but it needs to be a good complement to our passing game. Tonight it wasn't where it needed to be.”
And as the night ended, some injuries clouded the picture a bit.
UW played almost the entire game without junior tailback Jesse Callier, who got the start and was expected to share time with sophomore Bishop Sankey. Callier suffered a potentially serious knee injury early in the game on a play where he was untouched. Sarkisian said an MRI would determine the severity of the injury.
Without Callier, Sankey got a career-high 22 carries for 66 yards. UW also played true freshman Erich Wilson II, who had 22 yards on two carries. If Callier is out for an extended period, those two would figure to take over the tailback duties.
Also injured was starting right tackle Ben Riva, who left in the first half with a broken forearm and could also be out for a while. Mike Criste, a redshirt sophomore, replaced Riva, but Sarkisian said the Huskies could explore shuffling the line, perhaps moving guard Erik Kohler back to right tackle, where he started last season.
Sarkisian said the injuries impacted his play-calling as the game wore on.
“We probably got scaled down there quicker than I liked,” he said. “When we're at our best, we're an attacking football team.”
He said the slowing of UW's aggressiveness “was probably mostly on me.”
“I've called better games and I'll call better games than I did tonight. I've seen Keith Price better than I have tonight. He just didn't feel quite right, comfortable all the way through it. We're probably not going to be great on offense if Keith and I just aren't in the rhythm of the game, so we'll get better with that.”
The schedule leaves no real choice.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.
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