- Ted Miller, College Football
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After Washington's 21-12 win over San Diego State -- a mediocre but hardly dreadful performance -- quarterback Keith Price looked like a guy who'd lost a football game. And his wallet. And his best friend. And his dog.
"I haven't played that bad a ball game in a long time," he said.
Said coach Steve Sarkisian, "That's what makes 17 special. He's got a standard he holds himself to."
Price will need to meet his high standard for Washington to have a chance Saturday at LSU, which is 28-0 in nonconference, regular-season games under coach Les Miles. If he does, an upset over the third-ranked, SEC power would announce the Huskies' return to national relevance and would elevate Price from long shot Heisman Trophy candidate to a legitimate contender.
Of course, the challenge in Baton Rouge is about as tough as it gets. The Huskies defense will be challenged by a physical Tigers running game. The Huskies offense will be challenged by one of the nation's best defenses, one that has speed at every position, including a pair of A-list ends in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
Another challenging element: The elements. It's going to be hot and humid and thundershowers are possible, which would typically benefit the team that prefers running the ball.
Oh, and there's 93,000 nutty, well-lubricated LSU fans in Tiger Stadium, perhaps the nation's loudest venue.
Further, the Huskies have taken a number of injury hits. They lost two starters from their offense against San Diego State, RB Jesse Callier, who is out for the season with a knee injury, and RT Ben Riva, who's out indefinitely with an arm injury. On defense, it was announced that end Hau'oli Jamora's fall camp knee injury was a season-ender.
LSU will be without LT Chris Faulk, but the Tigers are deep and experienced on their O-line.
So, yes, the Huskies are up against a lot.
Yet recall 11th-ranked LSU came a-calling to Husky Stadium in 2009, Sarkisian's first year in Seattle. That Washington team was coming off a winless season. It was widely considered QB Jake Locker and a bunch of stiffs. What transpired was a highly competitive game, with the Tigers prevailing 31-23.
What does Sarkisian remember from that matchup?
"Hopefully, we look a little better in pregame warmups," he said. "I was a little kind of looking at their side and looking at our side and it didn't feel like this was a great matchup in pregame warmups."
LSU is notorious for looking good getting off the bus, not unlike USC. But that game surely registers among the Huskies veterans, and probably some of the Tigers who were around then. It wasn't the physical mismatch it had been drummed up to be. Afterwards, the LSU players were highly complimentary of the Huskies.
"We have a lot better team than we did three years ago," Price said. "I'm sure they're not overlooking us. They know we're going to bring it to them. And they are going to bring it to us."
Price is where it will all start. He can't afford to make mistakes, but he's going to have to be aggressive and take his shots. The Huskies won't be able to grind the ball down the field. Price needs to get rid of the ball quickly, but he also can't obsess about LSU pressure and cut short his progressions and dash from the pocket.
"I'll be in the pocket a lot more regardless of if they bring heat or not," Price said. "I'll just be under duress."
Price isn't the only Husky who can make a name for himself. Budding stars such as receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could join Price for a "Hello World" moment.
As for the defense, one word: tackle. The Huskies looked improved on defense against San Diego State, but Sarkisian noted the Aztecs had 90 yards after initial contact. The 225-pound Spencer Ware leads a crew of physical, athletic Tigers running backs could double that number if the Huskies don't tackle well.
If the Huskies defense can contain the LSU running game -- a big if -- it's uncertain just how well the Tigers will be able to throw. New QB Zach Mettenberger has a live arm, but he was kicked off the team at Georgia after a number of off-field incidents, and, after a single game against North Texas, already has seemed rattled by the scrutiny at LSU. It's reasonable to question how he will react to adversity if the screws tighten in the fourth quarter.
Price, as cool as a pint of Häagen-Dazs, isn't going to be rattled.
"They're good," Price said. "But we will be on our A game. Trust me."
Alright then. But will that A game be enough to pull the upset?
After Washington's 21-12 win over San Diego State -- a mediocre but hardly dreadful performance -- quarterback Keith Price looked like a guy who'd lost a football game.