10/21/02 Neuheisel Press Conference

Rick Neuheisel (Allsport)

With a record of 4-3 and another away game coming for the struggling road Dawgs, things are rightfully unsettled on Montlake. At today's press conference head coach Rick Neuheisel shared his thoughts on the past week, as well as the upcoming opponents, the Arizona State Sun Devils.

It's not often that you see Rick Neuheisel get uncomfortable. But it was obvious today that the head coach was not happy about nor satisfied with the overall performance of his program. "We are looking forward to having another chance to right the ship this weekend at Arizona State," he began. "We realize that we're playing a very hot team coming off a great win over defending champion Oregon, in a classic ball game where they threw for 550 yards or there abouts. We're trying to figure out how to get things done, to keep our kids positive, and keep our kids excited about the rest of our season because there's a lot of football left to be played."

The Huskies are into the meat of their Pac-10 schedule and find themselves at 1-2 in conference. With three of the five remaining games on the road where the Huskies have struggled of late, Coach Neuheisel knows that the task ahead shows no signs of letting up. "There's a saying, tough times don't last but tough people do," he said. "We're going to do our very best to remain steadfast in our resolve to improve and become the team that we all envisioned ourselves being at season's start. I'm looking forward to the challenge.

"I was asked yesterday by some of you if I'm feeling an inordinate amount of pressure or anything like that, but the truth is all the pressure I feel is self applied. I want to be successful, because I know how important football is to the University of Washington. I know how important the program is to the great fans in this great state and I don't want to disappoint them. I know they're very disappointed currently, but there's still a lot of football left to be played. We're going to work our tails off so that we can put a great product on the field, and give every ounce of effort that we have in anticipation of finding the victory circle again."

Over the last three years of Neuheisel's regime Washington has been to two Holiday Bowls and one Rose Bowl. This year's team can only get to that level with some help from others. With all that is going on in the Pac-10 one never knows what will happen, but the Dawgs under Neuheisel have never been out of the race like this before. "We're seeing how the other half lives," Neuheisel said. "We've enjoyed a lot of success around here. Both prior to my arrival and during the last three years. We've won a lot of games close at the end, and came away feeling great about ourselves and never took time to realize what was going on in the other camp. Well now we're in the other camp. We're on the short end of the stick on a couple of those ballgames. There's lot in terms of statistics that can be pointed to as the reasons why. But ultimately it comes down to a bunch of people, not just players, but coaches and everyone associated with our program buckling down and improving and getting better from week to week.

"This is a unique challenge for this group. We've been on the front end most of the time. I'm frankly excited to see how we respond. I'm pretty sure that we'll respond favorably. I'm pretty sure that our guys will. This program will get moving in the right direction. If we go about our business in a tough way, we'll get back there sooner than later."

Much ado has been made about the lack of yards produced by the running game. While acknowledging that there is still competition for the running back spot, the coach feels that his comments regarding competition last week may have been misunderstood. "We're going to have all three guys practice, and they'll all be able to play. There's always been competition. I think that caught everyone's attention as though there wasn't on a week to week basis. There's always competition. Originally we hoped that one back would take over and dominate the play, but maybe that just not who we are. I'm not saying that it might not still happen, but I think that all three have shown good things. I want all three to be excited about the chance to participate in fixing an ill running game right now," he said.

A hot back would bring the much needed balance to an offense that has been pass heavy so far. "We'd like to be a complete football team, suffice to say on offense that means you want to be balanced. You want to be able to run and throw. So that you can keep people off of you, keep your quarterback well protected, you can have a bunch of different launch points, and keep defenses at bay in terms of knowing what's coming. If you're talking defense you need be able to stop the run. You need to be able to keep them from churning out first downs without having to throwing the ball to do so.

"And when they throw the ball, you'd like to be competitive as possible in terms of knocking it down. And keep people from staying on the field inordinate amounts of time. So far we've developed a very capable passing game, and we've developed a very capable run stopping defense. We're missing in those other areas. Those areas of being able to effectively run the ball when we need to, and effectively stop passing so as to get teams off the field and get the ball back in your offenses hands," said Neuheisel.

"We've got to keep working to get those things solved," he continued. "But you can't go so far as to throw out the baby with the bath water. You can't say we're not going to throw anymore in an effort to try and get our running game going and lose one of the best things we do. You can't go and wholesale change everything we do on defense and lose what we're doing really well which is stopping the run. Sultan McCullough averaged 2.2 yards per carry against us or something like that on Saturday and they rushed for 70 or 80 yards, many of it when the game was decided. We're in position to make plays on those balls down the field; we just now have to make them.

"Then we have to ask ourselves if our personnel are in the right places. I've never doubted the effort level of our guys. Certainly at time concentration levels can be increased. But in terms of giving us what they have and working hard, we've got great kids to coach. So we have to ask ourselves is the message unclear in terms of what we're coaching, is it not clear enough what our expectations are, or are they not concentrating. Or are they not capable, are we asking them to do things that they may not be capable of doing. Those are the questions we're asking and have been asking, it's not as though this is something that is starting now. You get to gameday and that's your gradesheet. If gameday says it didn't happen the way you projected it was going to happen you've got to ask the questions again."

Neuheisel does not believe that effort is lacking anywhere in the program, but perhaps concentration will be an area of focus in the coming week. "You can be giving great effort, but if you're blitzing when you're not supposed to that's not good concentration," he said. "We had a play the other day where we were playing zone and one guy was playing man. The effort was fascinating. He covered the heck out of his guy, but his zone was left open. That is a break down in concentration. Either that, or something that we taught him, he thought he could do that. Those are the things that we'll investigate. That happens all the time, whether you're winning or losing. It just becomes much more focal when things aren't going well in your program.

"Lapses in concentration can happen when you're playing with younger players, with guys who don't have a lot of experience. But you can't cop out as coaches and constantly say that's the issue. That's my job as a head coach, assessing the coaching that's going on to make sure that guys are getting the messages clearly across to the players and see what they're coaching on gameday."

Another week brings another prolific Pac-10 offense for the Huskies to prepare for. The Sun Devils lit up the Oregon secondary last week for a ridiculous amount of yards. The rash of talented quarterbacks lined up to play the Huskies doesn't phase coach Neuheisel anymore. "What else is new? Look at what we've done this season since we've gone into Pac-10 play. We played Kyle Boller who will be drafted in the first 2 rounds of the NFL draft. I'll be shocked if he's not. We've played Jason Johnson who's thrown for over 300 yards per game, at least when we played him. We've played Carson Palmer. All three of those guys are now seniors. Except for Jason who was a two year starter, the other two were four year starters.

"Now we're playing another quarterback that has had a great deal of success. I'm not sure if he came into the season as the starter, but he's certainly come into it. They've got a way of throwing the ball down the field and making big plays. He and Shawn McDonald have become a great pair. We're excited to play them," he said.

Coach Neuheisel closed his conference on this optimistic note. "I don't think you get involved in competitive endeavors without tasting defeat. The young kids who've been here have not tasted it a lot. But that's a call to arms. When I arrived here the program was in a similar situation. Those kids rose to the occasion. They decided that they were going to put Washington back on the mantle, back to where it belongs. In a place of prestige, highly respected and had done so. Now this new addition of Huskies has a similar opportunity. It's up to all of us associated with the program to band together and get it done."


Notes:
Alumni Appearances: Former Dawgs Elliot Silvers, Hugh Millen, and Greg Lewis were in attendance today, presumably looking for the same answers we were.

UCLA on TV: The November 2nd game against UCLA has been moved to a 4 PM kick off. The game will be televised nationally on TBS. November 2nd is also Homecoming.

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