Can Washington's offense match high-scoring Baylor?
Tandem of Keith Price and Chris Polk give Huskies high-octane additive against Bears in Alamo Bowl.
Seattle Times staff reporter
UW vs. Baylor, 6 p.m., ESPN
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SAN ANTONIO — As Keith Price's roommate, Washington running back Chris Polk saw firsthand how knee and ankle injuries affected the sophomore quarterback the last few months.
"There were games where he was real beat up," Polk said Tuesday. "I even had to carry him to the car and drive him to treatment and had to help him elevate his leg in our apartment."
But as the Huskies continue preparation here for Thursday's Alamo Bowl game against Baylor, Price is moving better than he has in months.
"He's out there running around again," Polk said, before lobbing a gentle jab at his friend and roommate. "He's trying to run with us down field even though he can't keep up. But he's feeling good."
Now the question is whether Polk and Price together can help carry the UW to victory.
Baylor, featuring the nation's No. 2 offense and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III at quarterback, is expected to move the ball against a forgiving Huskies defense.
That means the UW offense must try to keep up.
As Baylor first-year defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said: "Their best defense might be their offense."
Polk didn't argue.
"We feel like we have to score a lot of points and we've just got to keep RG III off the field," Polk said of Griffin. "We've just got to eat up the clock and be a real possession team and just continue to keep him off the field because he can't beat us if he's not on the field. ... one of our goals is to sustain drives."
Many teams tried that against Baylor, and a few were able to execute, including a Kansas team that finished 2-10 and fired coach Turner Gill. The Jayhawks rushed for 296 yards and led the Bears almost the entire way before falling 31-30 in overtime, holding the ball for more than 43 minutes.
And in Baylor's three losses this season (to Kansas State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State), the Bears allowed 803 rushing yards.
Baylor finished 114th of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams in total defense, allowing 477.5 yards per game, including 278.8 passing.
Bennett said Tuesday, though, that he thinks the numbers are a little misleading. He points to the fast-paced Baylor offense, which puts the defense back out on the field often, and the general nature of Big 12 offenses.
"Don't let the numbers fool you," he said.
Baylor's five-game winning streak to end the season shows that appearances can be deceiving, Bennett noted.
"And if you looked at us defensively from Game 1 (to now) we probably improved 70 percent," he said.
Indeed, Baylor's defense proved astonishingly opportunistic as the year ended, forcing 16 turnovers — 10 interceptions and six fumbles — in the final four games.
"They do a good job of keeping their eyes in the backfield on the quarterback," said UW offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. "And they do a good job of reading routes, breaking (on the ball). They've got great speed."
Price has noticed the same in his review of Baylor's film.
"I just have to do a good job of taking care of the ball and making the right reads," he said.
Price threw a few of his 11 interceptions at inopportune times, especially during the Huskies' stretch of four losses in five games.
Yet that also was when he was most affected by injuries. If Price had been healthy all season, Bennett said, "They would have won nine or 10 games. They know that and we know that."
Instead, UW is 7-5 entering the Alamo Bowl.
Bennett expects Washington will use Price a lot more on rollouts and bootlegs and other plays that take advantage of his mobility.
"That's what I'm anticipating, them moving him a little bit more than they did the last four games," Bennett said. "It was obvious they were a different team in the Oregon State game (when Price played just two series). They missed his playmaking ability."
Price and Nussmeier played it coy on how much better Price is physically.
"I think that obviously Keith is feeling really good," Nussmeier said.
Washington also might rely on Polk as much as possible, maybe even as much as the Huskies did in last year's Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska. The junior running back had career-high 34 carries for 174 yards.
"Everything that they do is set up with their run game," Bennett said.
Polk is more than happy to carry his Huskies against the Bears and their suddenly famous quarterback.
"This is a real big stage, not only that we are playing the Heisman Trophy winner but we also have a chance to shock the nation," Polk said. "No one expects us to do well. ... So it's a big opportunity for us, and we've got to go seize it."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com. On Twitter @bcondotta.
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