Just Another Holiday?

When asked about his team's chances of dethroning the No. 1 University of Miami Saturday night (Nov. 24) in the Orange Bowl, Washington head coach Rick Neuheisel was extremely noncommittal- nothing new from opponents getting ready to face the Hurricanes.

Neuhisel's reply to the question might have made Lou Holtz smile.

"When I look at Miami I see a team with no weaknesses. I can't even begin to tell you where to attack them because there is no such thing," Neuheisel said. "You can go down the list-great quarterback, great offensive-line, great running back and great defensive. Hopefully, we can keep it close."

Then caution of the lips from Neuheisel took a 360 turn.

Without being baited, Neuheisel brought former University of Miami head coach Butch Davis into the conversation. Neuheisel stated how Davis lobbied for the Hurricanes in an effort to play in the national championship game because of their victory over the Florida State Seminoles.

Davis failed to mention something that Neuheisel remembers very well.

"Yeah, and," said Neuheisel said.

Good point.

The 8-2 Huskies, coming off a 26-14 victory over Washington State to claim the Apple Cup, can also boost about being the last team to defeat the Hurricanes, handing UM a 34-29 defeat last September in Seattle. Ever since, the Hurricanes have ran off 19 consecutive wins, the nation's longest winning-streak.

Back in the second week of the 2000 season, it was the Huskies who jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead before a ferocious Miami rally in the final quarter. Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey making his first start away from the Orange Bowl was a meager 15-of-34 for 215 yards. The Hurricanes would go on to finish 11-1, but missed playing for the title-thanks in part to Washington.

"The loss to Washington was a devastating loss for us and we grew from it," said University of Miami head coach Larry Coker. "I think everybody associated with this program took something positive out of that loss."

The Huskies will be finished with the regular season after facing Miami and have already accepted a contingency offer to play in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. An upset of Miami would have Washington prime for a BCS spot and pointing towards the Fiesta Bowl.

Neuheisel doesn't want to look ahead. But he might want to look back some more.

Neuhiesel wasn't around the Washington program in 1994, although he might want to pull out a tape of the Huskies only other visit to Miami. The Huskies did the improbable by defeating the Hurricanes, sapping Miami's 58-game winning streak.

So there, not a long history although a successful one against the Hurricanes; 2-0 against a team many consider the best team in the nation. And if that isn't enough a coach that won't let his players rest on their accomplishments.

"A lot of people think that because this is our last regular season game, we'll treat this thing like a vacation in South Florida. Far from it," said Neuheisel. "It's a heck of a change, but our guys have been on the field with Miami. They know what it takes."

Although last year's starting quarterback for Washington Marcus Tuiasosopo has gone the way of the NFL, junior tight end Jeremy Stevens, running back Rich Alexis and receiver Todd Elstrom all were on the field in the game against UM a year ago. And all or some could play a big role on Saturday.

Alexis, a sophomore from Pope John II in Coral Springs, might be in for a workload against Miami. The 6-0, 215-pounder has carried the ball 108 times for 383 yards and four touchdowns, ranking second best on the Huskies.

Alexis, who had 51 yards with a TD run against Miami last year, might find himself on the field a lot more this time around. Senior running back Willie Hurst, leading the team with 603 rushing yards, is questionable for the game.

Although, Neuheisel seems to think Hurst will answer the bell come Saturday.

"We all broken things," said Neuheisel said. "Willie will be fine."

If the Huskies running game falters, there next option would be starting quarterback Cody Pickett. Pickett, a sophomore is 155-of-272 for 2,246 passing yards and nine touchdowns on the season. Pickett has thrown 10 interceptions. The Hurricanes secondary, led by senior safety Ed Reed and ranked first in the Big East, will pose a serious challenge for the Huskies aerial attack. But Pickett will have a few weapons of his own.

Washington freshman Reggie Williams has emerged as a top notch receiver with a team-high 49 receptions and 888 yards. Williams, averaging 18.1 yards a catch, has four touchdowns. "I don't think Miami will double-team Reggie because they believe-and rightfully so-that they can cover anybody in the nation straight up," said Neuheisel. "And looking at it from our point of view, we don't want to put all the pressure on Reggie. We have to keep it balanced."

Junior receiver Paul Arnold is second on the team with 40 catches and 614 yards, along with four touchdown receptions. Todd Elstrom has 35 receptions and 490 yards for four touchdowns.

But Pickett could be looking for junior tight end Jerramy Stevens a whole lot as well. Stevens, who had seven catches and 89 yards against Miami last year, has been sidelined for most of the year. He has eight catches for 78 yards with four touchdowns.

"Having Jerramy is another dimension to our football team. He adds so much," Neuheisel.

Stevens and Jeremy Shockey, the Hurricanes tight end, are often mentioned as the best at their positions. Coker wouldn't trade Shockey for anybody in the entire country.

"Well, I like our tight end and I'm sure Washington likes there's too," said Coker. "I wouldn't take anybody for him, I'll tell you that. We'd like to keep him."

The Huskies defense struggled in the middle games of the season, but has performed well in the last several weeks. Led by 300-pound senior Larry Triplett up front, the Huskies defense is planning to mix coverages on Miami in hopes of confusing Dorsey and company. Triplett will be concentrating his efforts on getting past the Hurricanes offensive-line- not a small task.

"Oh man, I don't know what to say. From McKinnie on down all the guys are going to play on Sundays. It's going to be a hell of a challenge."

Ben Mahdavi leads the Huskies in tackles with 81, followed by Greg Carothers (71), Jamaun Willis (60) and Wondame Davis (47).

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