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Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Healthy OL needed for Price to be right

By Gil Bransford


Steven Bisig/USA TODAY SportsKeith Price can look over a healthy offensive line ... for now.
Washington returns 10 offensive starters in 2013, including four from the offensive line. The latter is key as the Huskies will look to improve on the strong second half of 2012.

Quarterback Keith Price is the best-known player on Washington’s offense, but the Huskies’ fortunes in the last two seasons might have been more closely tied to the availability – if not the ability – of those offensive linemen.

In 2011, Washington featured two different offensive line combinations, with the same unit starting the first 11 games. With the Huskies solidified upfront, Price had the best season of his career, throwing 33 touchdowns and completing two-thirds of his passes. Price capped his season with 438 yards and seven touchdowns in an Alamo Bowl loss against Robert Griffin III and Baylor.

Washington was scheduled to return three of five starters in 2012 (Drew Schaefer, Colin Porter and Erik Kohler) and expected a fourth (Colin Tanigawa) to return from a knee injury. Then disaster struck.

According to UW Dawg Pound, Porter had to quit football prior to fall camp with a degenerative shoulder condition. The Huskies then endured injuries to Kohler, Tanigawa and tackle Ben Riva. In all, they missed 40 starts from their five projected starters at offensive line.

Without the continuity upfront, Washington struggled to protect Price. The Huskies allowed 38 sacks, a 41 percent increase over 2011, when they allowed 27 sacks. Their quarterbacks had 122 dropbacks in which they were under pressure last season, third most by any AQ school. Price threw the ball away nearly four times as often in 2012 as he did in 2011.

Without protection, Price’s numbers plummeted. He threw 14 fewer touchdowns and committed eight more turnovers than in 2011, including a Pac-12 high six fumbles lost.

Using ESPN's new Total QBR metric for college (details on the NFL version, with the same principles as the college version, can be found here), which uses all of a quarterback's plays (passing, rushing, fumbles, sacks and penalties) and accounts for the context of the game situation while adjusting for the quality of defenses faced, we can see how far his performance dropped.

Price's Total QBR went from 72.8 in 2011 (15th best in the nation among qualified quarterbacks) to 48.1 in 2012 (76th). Total QBR is on a 0-100 scale with 50 being average.

After starting five different offensive line combinations in their first seven games, the Huskies started the same five linemen over the last six. With that continuity, Price’s play improved as he averaged 1.6 more yards per attempt at the end of the year (7.2) than he did at the beginning (5.6).

Price wasn’t the only beneficiary of a consistent offensive starting unit. Running back Bishop Sankey averaged 5.2 yards per rush in his last six games and rushed for 205 yards in the MAACO Bowl against Boise State. Sankey’s improvement (4.7 yards per rush in his first seven games) opened play-action options for the Huskies’ offense.