Huskies in tough spot without Jake Locker

Oregon owns the best offense in the nation. Washington owns one of the worst defenses. And now the Huskies already remote chances of keeping up the Ducks have taken a major hit: Quarterback Jake Locker won't play in Autzen Stadium on Saturday because of a fractured rib.

Locker first hurt the rib against Oregon State, a Huskies victory and the last time he played well. He aggravated the injury in the 41-0 loss to Stanford, which sacked him three times.

Redshirt freshman Keith Price will make his first career start in one of the loudest venues in the country against the nation's No. 1 team.

"It will be a great challenge for him," coach Steve Sarkisian said. "It will be a great challenge for us."

It’s not clear at this point when Locker will return. The Huskies have a bye after their visit to Oregon and play host to UCLA on Thursday, Nov. 18.

Locker has started 20 consecutive games, but this season has been a major disappointment for him and the Huskies, who appeared on the cusp of a breakthrough after a suprisingly strong 2009 season.

Despite being touted as a potential No. 1 overall pick in last spring's NFL draft, Locker opted to return for his senior season. But the Huskies opened with a disappointing loss at BYU and then, two weeks later, got blown out at home against Nebraska, a game in which Locker completed just 4 of 20 passes with two interceptions.

While Locker has played well at times, most notably at USC and in the win against Oregon State, he hasn't been consistent, particularly with his accuracy.

He's battled a deep thigh bruise and the rib injury over the past couple of weeks. He threw for 286 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 60 yards in the win against Oregon State. In the two games since, however, he threw for just 247 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown and rushed for minus-23 yards.

Locker, however, wouldn't use the injuries as an excuse for his play against Stanford.

"It didn't have anything to do with my play," he said.

Price will start at Oregon and true freshman Nick Montana will be the new backup, with receiver Cody Bruns and running back Jesse Callier serving as emergency possibilities. The Huskies are trying to redshirt Montana, but that probably depends on Price staying healthy.

Price has played in five games this year, completing 5 of 9 passes for 37 yards. When Locker got hurt at USC, Price entered the game and immediately threw a short TD pass.

"He's made great strides in his development," Sarkisian said.

The Huskies, at 3-5 overall, need to win three of their final four games to earn bowl eligibility. It's hard to imagine them doing that without Locker, who initially suffered a hairline fracture to his rib before it became a full break against Stanford.

"The goal is to have him healthy for our final three ball games," Sarkisian said.