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Originally published November 14, 2011 at 3:58 PM | Page modified November 14, 2011 at 10:46 PM

Nick Montana prepares to start for Huskies if Keith Price can't

Huskies' quarterback Keith Price undergoing MRI on left knee.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Suddenly, the questions about Washington's play the past two games are trumped by a larger uncertainty heading into this week: Will Keith Price be able to play Saturday at Oregon State or will Nick Montana instead get his first start?

Price sat out practice Monday to have an MRI on his left knee and the results likely will be known Tuesday, at which time an announcement on a starter might also be made.

The knee swelled more than expected after Price again suffered a sprain when he was sacked in the third quarter of a 40-17 defeat Saturday at USC.

"Really, after the sack in the pileup he got twisted up pretty good, so there is some swelling there," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We don't think it's significant from a long-term standpoint but we want to make sure of that and then we need to monitor the swelling in the knee. It's a lot more swollen than it has been."

Even if the MRI reveals no significant damage, Sarkisian said he wouldn't guarantee Price would play Saturday.

"I'll monitor him and I need to see where he is at," Sarkisian said.

If Price cannot play, Montana — the redshirt-freshman son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana — would get his first start.

"We will prepare ourselves for Nick Montana to make his first start Saturday, and if things change, then things change," Sarkisian said. "But I think you have to prepare for that so that we don't get caught off guard late in the week."

Price threw 21 touchdown passes in the first six games. But he has thrown only four since and against USC was held without one for the first time all year. He also has been hit mercilessly of late, with the Huskies allowing 13 sacks the past two games.

Price suffered injuries to both knees Saturday as he was sacked four times. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 125 yards before being replaced by Montana, who completed nine of 15 passes for 73 yards in the most significant playing time of his career. That included his first touchdown pass, a 20-yarder to Kasen Williams with 13 seconds left.

For the season, Montana is 13 of 20 for 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Price beat him out last spring for the starting quarterback job.

Sarkisian said the recent experience has given him added confidence that the 6-foot-3, 203-pound Montana can perform well if needed Saturday.

"Every opportunity he's gone in he's gotten better," Sarkisian said. "I thought he did some nice things there late in the game against SC as he got into the flow of the game. To Nick's credit, I think the last month, the last three weeks, really have been his best days of practice. He's really gone out and practiced efficiently, he's played fast, he's been decisive."

Price, who remains tied for 10th in the nation in touchdown passes and whose 155.1 efficiency rating is on track to be the best in school history, said after the game Saturday that he expected to be able to play this week.

But he also acknowledged that injuries were taking a toll.

"It's definitely holding me down a little bit," he said.

The Huskies are trying to snap their first two-game losing streak of the year, having lost three of four overall.

All have come against the three Pac-12 teams ranked in the Top 25 this week — Stanford, Oregon and USC.

Sarkisian wasn't happy with his team's inability to answer when things went awry.

"We haven't responded in recent weeks," he said. "This is gut-check time; we're going to find out if we're a resilient group or not."

NOTES

• It's uncertain what UW would do if Price cannot play and Montana were injured. Derrick Brown is listed as the No. 3 QB, but he's a true freshman who has yet to play and the Huskies are hoping he can redshirt this year. Walk-on Thomas Vincent of King's in Shoreline also is a true freshman. RB Jesse Callier played a little quarterback in high school and has gotten a few snaps in Wildcat formations the past two years.

• LB Garret Gilliland suffered a recurrence of a pinched nerve and his status is uncertain this week.

• Sarkisian said he hopes WR James Johnson, who has missed the past two games with a high ankle sprain, will return.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @bcondotta.

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