CORVALLIS, Ore. — Those fortunate enough to attend Saturday night’s Pac-12 Conference game between Washington and Oregon State will likely find out the identity of the Huskies’ starting quarterback just prior to kickoff at Reser Stadium.
And no sooner.
Not until pregame warm-ups will it be apparent as to whom coach Steve Sarkisian chose to guide the offense after a week of mostly rest for senior Keith Price, and starter-preparation for redshirt freshman Cyler Miles.
The decision has been made. Sarkisian just isn’t saying what it is.
“I know,” Sarkisian said during his weekly Friday appearance on Sports Radio KJR. “But I can’t tell you that.”
So it remains a mystery. Will Price gut through the shoulder injury that prevented him from throwing a pass in practice until Thursday? Or will Miles, the promising young backup, make
his first career start?
Kickoff will bring resolution. This much is certain: Regardless of who takes snaps and throws passes for the Huskies tonight, this isn’t a game Washington can afford to lose.
Of course, that has been written about a handful of games already this season. The problem for the Huskies (6-4, 3-4 in Pac-12) is that they’ve lost most of those next-step contests, and now find themselves in need of a victory to preserve their chance to win eight games during the regular season.
That hasn’t happened since 2001, when Rick Neuheisel coached the Huskies to nine wins and a 47-43 loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
Such a prestigious postseason destination is already out of the question for this UW team. But the Huskies insist there is plenty to play for, including an opportunity to earn their first conference road victory this season and their first win in Corvallis since 2003.
“I guess none of that really matters right now, besides (the fact) this is the most important game of the year,” said junior defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha. “Per week, that’s how we’ve got to treat it, and nothing else can matter.”
A win would go a long way — or some way, at least — toward quieting criticism that Sarkisian’s teams can’t win on the road. Those criticisms are well-founded: The Huskies haven’t won a Pac-12 road game since Nov. 17 of 2012, and hold a 7-19 record in road games during Sarkisian’s five-year tenure as coach. In that time, the Huskies have won only two road games against teams that finished the season with a record of .500 or better.
So their ability to win away from home is a question, “and it’s going to be until we do something about it, quite honestly,” Sarkisian said.
“Inevitably, great teams have the ability to go on the road and beat really good football teams and beat potentially great football teams, and we just haven’t quite gotten there yet.”
In three Pac-12 road losses this season, the Huskies lost by three, 29 and 10 points.
Sarkisian said it feels like the Huskies are “right there,” which he is aware isn’t good enough.
“I’m tired of being ‘right there,’ ” he said. “I don’t want to settle for being ‘right there.’ I want to win those games. When we do, it’s going to be awesome. We’ve got to knock through the door, man. We’ve got to bang that door open.”
And they have to do it without grabbing a facemask, or interfering with a receiver, or holding a defensive lineman. Washington is the most penalized team in the country, averaging 8.9 flags per game. Those infractions, on average, cost the Huskies 79.3 yards a game.
Sarkisian contends that many of his team’s penalties are inadvertent — he cited three instances in last Friday’s loss at UCLA of cornerbacks accidentally grabbing receivers’ facemasks while trying to jam them — but they’ve been getting called nonetheless.
“We’ve just got to continue to coach them,” he said. “Because it’s late in the season, that doesn’t mean we stop coaching stuff. So, we’re working on them. We’d love to come out of this game with a really clean game where we don’t commit those penalties, and make Oregon State earn everything they get.”
WASHINGTON (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) at OREGON STATE (6-4, 4-3)
7:30 p.m., Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Ore.
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: Washington leads, 59-34-4. UW won the last meeting, 20-17, at Seattle in 2012.
What to watch: Steve Sarkisian isn’t saying who will start at quarterback for the Huskies, but if it’s backup Cyler Miles, the UW offense could look a little different than it has this season. Miles, a 6-foot-4, 213-pound redshirt freshman, is a much better runner than Keith Price, though he’s certainly not as polished a passer. So, it figures that if Miles plays, he’ll likely have a few more designed running plays than Price would. The zone-read option might be a bigger part of the game plan, too. Miles said this week that when he subbed for an injured Price last week against UCLA, there were at least two plays on which he should have kept the ball and ran it, but didn’t. He’ll have to improve that kind of decision-making, if he’s given the ball on Saturday.
The pick: Oregon State, 34-27.
10 Cyler Miles QB 6-4 213 R-Fr.
Proved capable of running UW’s offense during second half of loss last week to UCLA, and might get another shot if Price’s shoulder isn’t healthy enough for him to play.
17 Keith Price QB 6-1 202 Sr.
History suggests the senior shouldn’t be counted out for injury reasons. Tough guy will try to play through anything.
25 Bishop Sankey RB 5-10 203 Jr.
With quarterback situation up in the air, why not hand the ball a bunch to one of nation’s top rushers?
72 Micah Hatchie LT 6-5 305 Jr.
Sarkisian said UW’s left tackle is “good to go” after leaving last game with an injury. His health is important to UW’s rushing, pass protection efforts.
4 Sean Mannion QB 6-5 220 Jr.
Nation’s leading passer can carve up a secondary if he’s given time to throw.
7Brandin Cooks WR 5-10 186 Jr.
The best receiver the Huskies will see this season, and he’ll get some carries, too. Beavers use him everywhere.
8 Richard Mullaney WR 6-3 194 So.
Oregon State’s second-leading receiver with 46 catches for 702 yards. Proof the Beavers’ offense isn’t all Cooks.
95 Scott Crichton DE 6-3 265 Jr.
Foss graduate and Tacoma native with well-documented hatred of the Huskies, who did not recruit him. Think he’d like revenge for last year’s close loss in Seattle?
firstname.lastname@example.org@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @ChristianCaple