SEATTLE — The moment is surely coming, the one that will go furthest in revealing if Keith Price’s redemption is going to truly play out.
Price can talk, with all sincerity, about the “serious soul-searching” he did after the bitter losses to Washington State and Boise State at the end of last season.
He can wax enthusiastic, as he did on Monday, about the diversity of Husky offensive talent that will keep him from last year’s focus on targeting Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Price can revel in his newfound freedom in Steve Sarkisian’s frenetic no-huddle offense, and reassure us all, again, that he has learned to trust his coach, his system, his teammates, his preparation.
But at some point-probably in Saturday’s opener against Boise State, in fact-a linebacker is going to be bearing down on a desperately scrambling Price, and he will have to fight the urge welling deep inside him-the instinct that makes him, in the big picture, such a valued competitor but has undone him in the heat of the moment. The fierce desire to make something out of nothing, to force a miraculous play.
To be, in his words, Superman.
And when Price takes that sack, or checks down from the enticing but endangered bomb, or chucks a ball harmlessly out of bounds, well, that’s when Husky fans can dare to dream.
“I learned the hard way last season, man,” he said. “It resulted in lost games for my team. It’s tough, especially with my style of play. I like extending plays. Sometimes, you just have to learn to burn the ball and throw it away. Live to see another day.”
A simple philosophy, but excruciatingly hard to enact. Yet the Huskies, in this season of buoyant hopes and a beautifully refurbished stadium, need the fifth-year senior quarterback to be in full control of his game. Especially in those red-zone moments of truth when the lure of the end zone ensnared Price into an ill-advised throw or poorly timed fumble.
There was talk of quarterback competition after last season’s crushing back-to-back defeats, but it is still, appropriately, Price’s team. And that means one last chance to steer his legacy back in the direction it was headed after a brilliant sophomore season in which he outplayed RGIII in the Alamo Bowl.
The Heisman hype never took off, of course, but Price’s body of work is better than the perception. That is what tends to happen with a couple of high-profile interceptions in the two most scrutinized games of the season.
Sarkisian is confident Price has absorbed the hard lessons of last year.
“I think the one thing for Keith is to quiet things down around him, focus on his job, and play the football he’s capable of playing,” Sarkisian said. “When he does, he’ll be great, and that’s what I expect him to be.”
Sarkisian is convinced that his new up-tempo attack plays into Price’s strengths. It’s a paradox, of sorts: By forcing the action and requiring instantaneous judgments, the hope is that Price is liberated from the burden of overthinking his options. A whirlwind pace begets a clear mind.
“I’ve always thought of Keith kind of like a point guard in basketball,” Sarkisian said. “He has a really unique ability to distribute the football and see things and feel things that are going on around him.
“I think this system forces you to do that, because you can’t look at everything and take in all the information, and then press enter and get a result. You have to be able to take things in as they come, and then know where to go with the football, and do it quickly.”
Price showed a tantalizing taste of that ability in the Baylor game two years ago, when Sarkisian unveiled a sneak preview of this year’s offense early in the eventual 67-56 slugfest. In a valiant losing effort, Price threw for 438 yards and four touchdowns.
Now Sarkisian wants the Huskies to move at an Oregon pace, and he needs Price to make it all purr. He likened it to a Ferrari that can only move as fast as the driver can handle it.
“It starts with the quarterback, and he’s got to make sure all the parts are in line so he can handle that vehicle so it can go as fast as it can go,” Sarkisian said.
Price dutifully ran down his check list on Monday.
“I have to protect the ball better … I have to be smart in my decisions … You don’t feel like you have to make every play, every throw … “
In a revealing moment, Price said of last year’s frustration, “You try to forget about it, but you just never forget … My main focus is to make sure I’m trusting my eyes, trusting what I’m seeing on the field, and trusting all the time I invested in planning these 13 or 14 games, however many we get.”
And, perhaps most crucially, knowing when to live to fight another play.