Huskies' Keith Price to start in Apple Cup
Washington quarterback feeling healthier after limited duty last week and will return as starter against Washington State on Saturday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
WSU receiver Marquess Wilson vs. UW secondaryThis is one of the most obvious strength vs. weakness battles in the 2011 Apple Cup.
Wilson, a sophomore receiver, is leading the Pac-12 in receiving yards with 1,280, an average of 116.4, and 17.1 per catch.
Washington, meanwhile, is 11th in the Pac-12 in pass defense, allowing 278.3 yards per game and 7.4 per attempt. UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday that Wilson's big-play ability is especially worrisome — his 10 touchdowns are more than any Pac-12 receiver other than USC's Robert Woods.
"We've been susceptible to the big play this year, so that's the first problem he poses," Sarkisian said. "His ability to create big plays, whether it's the deep ball he's so good at catching, or converting the short pass into a big play. That's the biggest area of concern is when he gets one-on-one matchups, he can create big plays."
When teams have slowed Wilson this year, they have often done so playing a safety deep to assure they wouldn't get beat on a big play while also instructing the corners to jam him at the line and then play off, a strategy UW might try to duplicate and the Cougs will try to counter.
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Steve Sarkisian insisted he didn't plan to save Keith Price last week to assure his quarterback was healthier for Washington's annual rivalry game against Washington State.
It just kind of worked out that way.
The Huskies' coach announced Monday that Price will return as starting quarterback for Saturday's 4:30 p.m. contest against WSU at CenturyLink Field after sitting out most of last week's 38-21 loss at Oregon State.
Sarkisian said the rest last week put some pep back in Price's step. The quarterback did little in practice and played only two series in relief duty Saturday.
The Washington coach said Price's knee "looked great" in his Sunday rehabilitation session.
"The swelling is back to normal," Sarkisian said. "I think he will feel fresh. I think the knee and his confidence in the knee and his ability to make plays will not only affect his body, but his mind."
Some wondered why Sarkisian didn't start Price last Saturday if the quarterback was healthy enough to play. Others asked why Price didn't come in for Nick Montana earlier than the 11:21 mark of the fourth quarter.
Sarkisian said Monday that UW's medical staff advised him that if Price played too much, the rest he had gotten during the week might go for naught.
The staff suggested that "if you want to play him, it can't be for an extended number of snaps," the coach said. "It's got to be almost on an emergency basis where it's the fourth quarter of a game, he can get 20-30 snaps in and hopefully not take a couple of real good shots on the knee."
Price led a quick scoring drive that cut the lead to 31-21, but after a UW fumble recovery on the kickoff, he threw an interception. After Oregon State scored to make it 38-21, Montana returned.
Price has battled ankle and knee injuries all season.
"When he has gone in and played banged up, when he has gone in for 70 to 80 plays, the wear and tear of the game (has shown up) into the third and fourth quarters," Sarkisian said. "And so we were trying to get him as healthy as we could."
Price's play — brief success followed by a missed opportunity — symbolized the day for the Huskies, who lost their third straight and fourth in five games since a 5-1 start.
Like Price's knee, Sarkisian expects UW's psyche to recover by Saturday.
"We just have to do a better job of coaching and ultimately executing at critical moments," he said. "When opportunities came our way, we weren't able to capitalize, and when opportunities came Oregon State's way, they were able to capitalize.
"I've seen these same guys make plays earlier in the year, and we have to get back to that. So that's the challenge for us within the next five days — to make that happen Saturday versus Washington State."
• With starting left guard Colin Tanigawa out with a knee injury suffered Saturday, senior Nick Wood is listed as the starter.However, Sarkisian said UW will explore other options this week to see if there's a combination that might work better. One possibility is moving right tackle Erik Kohler to left guard and inserting Micah Hatchie at right tackle.
• Danny Shelton, a true freshman from Auburn High, is listed as a starter at defensive tackle this week after coming off the bench and playing well at Oregon State. He will become the fourth true freshman to start a game this season.
• Sarkisian said the team will have a walk-through Friday at CenturyLink Field but will practice at UW this week. "The field's 100 yards long, it's 53-1/3 yards wide and it's green with white numbers," he said.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.
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