It will be convenient to pin the blame for Washington’s 24-14 loss to USC on Saturday night on quarterback Keith Price.
It will also be completely wrong to do so.
As well as the Huskies’ defense played most of the game, and as well as UW rallied in the second half, Washington is not going to consistently win games like this until the offensive line protects Price.
The stunningly resilient junior quarterback was sacked five times and clobbered on just about every other play. By the end of the game, he had the look of an endangered species; like a flyweight who had somehow gone the distance against a heavyweight.
He lost two fumbles in the fourth quarter, but by then, he was suffering from post-traumatic-sack disorder. The last fumble came when he was caught in a violent scissors between a pair of Trojans defenders.
Price held himself accountable, saying he has to do better, although he completed 20 of 28 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns.
His 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the third quarter was typical and illustrative. Price retreated, read the defense and fired it to where he expected Seferian-Jenkins to be.
But Price had no hope of seeing the outcome of the play, as he was flat-backed and buried beneath 270-pound USC defender George Uko.
The troubles up front are the result of a series of injuries going back to last spring that have left the Huskies playing much of the time with two freshmen and two sophomores on the line.
After half, they juggled the line further, just trying to find a solution.
Asked about the youth and manpower issues on the line, Price stood up for his teammates. “These guys are battling, man; they’re doing a great job. We’re just working with what we have right now. We’ve had a tough schedule, and I think they held up pretty good.”
Price said at times linemen came up to accept blame, “but they’re working hard,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
That’s open to debate.
Often when he is under pressure, he has to take off and run, and although he netted 34 rushing yards, those meant more hits he had to absorb. And having to head out on foot so often means he can’t consistently get the ball to such playmakers as Seferian-Jenkins or Kasen Williams.
The whole offense suffers.
“I thought he fought his tail off,” Sarkisian said of Price. “I thought he competed at a really high level. We gotta continue to try to get better around him.”
Actually, it might make the line deficiencies even more frustrating that the defense is now so much improved. The No. 11-ranked Trojans scored 24 points, but seven came off a blocked punt.
Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and freshman Marcus Peters were outstanding against Marqise Lee and Robert Woods – the best tandem of wide receivers in the country – who combined for a modest seven catches for 120 yards.
After trailing 24-7 at half, the Huskies held USC scoreless in the final 30 minutes. A crowd of 66,202 had CenturyLink Field shaking as the Huskies threatened in the second half, but three late drives ended with Price turnovers.
Price speculated that some of the issues were cases of “trying to do too much.”
He looked a little glassy-eyed during interviews.
“I feel OK physically,” he said when asked of his health. “But mentally ... it’s rough. I’ll grow from this.”
If taking these beatings builds character, it seems he would have had enough by now, having been previously abused by LSU and Stanford.
“At the end of the day, you have to block if you want to be a good offensive football team,” Sarkisian said.
Simple but true.
Price ended up trying to do too much because the line right now is leaving him no other options.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@ thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling