By Brent Stecker
Washington has been ranked as high as No. 15 this season, but those days are long gone.
Huskies quarterback Keith Price has been dealing with a thumb injury that has compromised his ability to throw. (AP)
With a three-game losing streak weighing them down, the now unranked Huskies (4-3 overall, 1-3 Pac-12) can ill afford another defeat Saturday at home against Cal. That’s because the Golden Bears (1-6, 0-4) are the only team keeping Washington out of the Pac-12 North cellar, which is where the Huskies would find themselves if their skid hits four.
The good news for Washington is that Cal is the perfect candidate to bust a slump. Its lone win came against Portland State on Sept. 7, and it’s been blown out in each of its losses, including a 44-22 drubbing by Washington State on Oct. 5.
The bad news for Washington is that quarterback Keith Price is still dealing with an injured thumb on his throwing hand, and it isn’t a 100-percent certainty that he’ll play Saturday – though coach Steve Sarkisian did say after practice Thursday that he’d be surprised if Price doesn’t play.
The fifth-year senior is no doubt eager to get back on the field as he’s coming off his worst performance of the year, completing just 16 of 39 passes last week in a disappointing 53-24 loss to Arizona State.
If Price doesn’t play, freshman Cyler Miles will get the call, and Sarkisian has said throughout the week that he and the team have confidence in Miles’ ability to run the offense. Miles has appeared in just one game this season – he was 5 for 7 for 97 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 89 yards on four carries in a blowout win over Idaho State on Sept. 21.
No matter who starts at quarterback, expect running back Bishop Sankey to have a big game. Sankey didn’t do much against Arizona State, but he had just 13 carries, which Sarkisian said wasn’t enough. Sankey has topped 100 yards rushing five times this season, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do it again against Cal.
Washington’s secondary will see plenty of action Saturday – Cal is a pass-first team, ranking seventh in the nation with 359.9 yards per game. That hasn’t translated into success, however, as the Bears average just 23.7 points per game (93rd in the NCAA), and they’ve given up 44.4 points per game (125th).
The Huskies will just need to stay out of their own way against the Bears, which is easier said than done. With 66 penalties on the year, Washington is the most flagged team in the FBS, a dubious distinction that has haunted them over the last three weeks.