Can Washington Huskies QB Keith Price Return to Sophomore Season Form?

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Washington‘s Keith Price might be one of the most overlooked returning quarterbacks in the Pac-12, lost between hype about young stars like Oregon‘s Marcus Mariota and UCLA‘s Brett Hundley and anxious coverage of quarterback battles at USC, Oregon State, Cal, and Arizona.

A strong 2013 would make him one of the preseason’s most underrated QBs, but another season like last year’s could put him permanently on the bench.

Price burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2011, succeeding Jake Locker as the Huskies’ starting quarterback. He wasted no time stepping right in for the heavily-hyped Locker, setting school records for single-season passing touchdowns (33), season completion percentage (66.9%), and pass efficiency in his first year as starter, and jumping to second in school history in single-season passing yards, behind Cody Pickett.

He had 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the season, was a Davey O’Brien Quarterback Award semifinalist, and earned All Pac-12 Honorable Mention. His luminous smile rivaled that of 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, and when the two teams faced each other in that year’s Alamo Bowl, he outplayed the future No.2 draft pick, too, going 23-of-27 for 438 yards and seven touchdowns (four passing, three rushing).

The expectation was that he’d ride the momentum of that incredible performance into 2012, but it didn’t happen. Rather than improving in his second season as full-time starter, Price regressed in a big way. His completion percentage dropped six points and he threw just 19 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.

The drop-off wasn’t entirely his fault. The offensive line, which hadn’t done a great job his sophomore year, was even worse in 2012, surrendering 37 sacks, and some of the young receivers were inconsistent and prone to drops. He lost two big playmakers, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, who’d accounted for more than one-third of his total yards and touchdowns in 2011 and are among the top-10 all-time wide receivers in Husky history, but he also gained two: receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, the program’s career leader in receptions at tight end (who is currently suspended after a DUI arrest).

Price knows that a large part of the blame rests with him. After the team finished a disappointing season with a loss in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl and he ended the game with an interception on his final pass, he told the media simply:  ”Poor throw. Poor read. And I cost the team the ballgame.”

The quote could sum up more than a few UW games in 2012, as Price struggled to hit receivers with late or forced throws. He also made poor decisions when it came to keeping the ball and scrambling for a few extra yards himself. Price isn’t a running quarterback, but on 54 rush attempts in 2011, he gained a net 10 yards; on 69 attempts in 2012, he gained -34.

In nearly every aspect of his game, Price just didn’t look the confident quarterback of the previous season, and he certainly didn’t play like it. That has to change if he wants to finish his senior season as UW’s starting quarterback. It might not be a wide open quarterback competition like some of the other Pac-12 schools are facing, but Price will have spring and fall camps to prove that he deserves to start over redshirt freshman Cyler Miles and early enrollee Troy Williams.

Keith Price can be one of the better quarterbacks in the conference, and in the county; he’s already proved that. But after a subpar 2012, he has to prove he can be that guy again if he wants to keep his job.

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