Keith Gilbertson Press Conference 08/25

What is round on the ends and high in the middle? It is nothing more than a simple elementary school riddle but this time, the answer is nothing to snicker about. The answer of course is Ohio (State) and that is where the Huskies will find themselves in less than a week in front of a nationally televised audience against the defending national champion Buckeyes.

The end of a turbulent offseason is in sight and the game week countdown has finally begun, as Keith Gilbertson will lead his Washington Huskies into the "Horseshoe" looking to come out with his first victory as the head coach of the Huskies. Gilby met with the media at the Don James Center for his first game-week press conference to discuss his goals and expectations for the upcoming contest.

Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel joined in on the festivities as well via conference call from Columbus to offer his insights and comments on the weekend match-up.

"It's an exciting time for everyone across the country to get a chance to move into the fun part of the year," Tressel said of the upcoming season. "We've all been training hard through the winter, spring, and summer and everyone's been going through the dog-days of preseason but now we get to play the games and when you start a season with a game like Ohio State and Washington, that makes it even more exciting and the whole country will be interested in these intersectional rivalries and we're just excited to just kick it off."

The Buckeyes will enter the game without a big piece of the championship team in tailback Maurice Clarett. The sophomore standout had an amazing freshmen season and even heard talks about a potential Heisman campaign in the works until he ran into some problems off the field. Clarett will reportedly miss the first six games and will watch the game this Saturday as a spectator.

"We've been really busy this preseason and we've probably dealt with it (off the field controversy) a lot less than other teams but obviously it's real and its something that is there and his (Clarett) teammates hurt for him and we as coaches hurt for him but we've got to get the situation squared away and then we'll move on from there," said Tressel.

Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross, both juniors, will be splitting the majority of the time at tailback until Clarrett returns to the team.

Gilbertson emphasized though that the absence of Clarett did not affect how he conducted practice or how the team plans to prepare to play defense on Saturday.

"We prepared to defend their system," said Gilberston. "I think that Ohio State is going to have more than one quality tailback and I think the two other youngsters that they have ready to play are highly respected guys and highly recruited and we know that they are going to put a quality athlete onto the field at tailback. So we defend their system and not particularly the individual."

"They pound the ball off-tackle," said Gilbertson as he described the Buckeyes system. "They pound it some more and just when it looks like they're ready to throw, they're going to pound one in there again on you. They run the power plays just as well as anybody in college football. That's not to say they're quarterback is not a great thrower. I think he is and they have good athletes on the outside. They're physical and they play a style of play where if you screw up, you have difficulty ever getting the ball back."

The individual match-up that many will be focusing on will be Reggie Williams against the Buckeyes' Chris Gamble. Gamble is listed as the starter for both cornerback on defense and flanker on offense on Ohio State's depth chart and excels at both positions.

"Chris Gamble and Reggie Williams are both fabulous athletes," said Gilberston. "They're both very competitive guys and it should be an interesting part of this game."

Tressel agrees that the Williams/Gamble match-up will be a big factor.

"You're talking about two of the best players in the country if you ask me and that's going to be worth tuning in for if nothing else," said Tressel. "Chris will play a lot of defense and he'll play a significant amount of offense. Exactly how we'll set that up, I don't know."

With Cody Pickett and Williams returning as one of, if not the best duo in the nation, Gilberston knows that he is very blessed to have such a combo as a resource for his first season. However, Gilby is no stranger to potent quarterback-receiver duos.

"I've been lucky to be around some great passing combinations," said Gilbertson. "Here at Washington, we had Cary Conklin to Andre Reilly and (Mark) Brunell and (Billy Joe) Hobert to Mario Bailey and I was around (Warren) Moon to (Joey) Galloway with the Seahawks but these are very unique guys. Reggie and Cody are big and competitive guys and both have a ton of talent."

When the Huskies take the offense in Columbus, they will have Rich Alexis lining up behind Pickett for the snap. Alexis has had a roller coaster of an offseason both personally and football related and received a lot of praise from Gilberston for battling through it all to prepare himself for this season.

"Rich is the starter and the other three players in Chris Singleton, Kenny James, and Shelton Sampson are going to fall in sometime after that but we're going to go with Rich and let Rich get himself established," Gilberston said of the tailback rotation. "We'll spell him with other people if necessary. It's difficult to get four people reps in practice so you've got to space your reps out and just try to get one or two guys really ready but as of now, Rich is the lead in that rotation."

Another area that has Gilberston a little concerned is the defensive line. Coming out of spring football, the defensive line looked to have a lot of depth but injuries over the summer have taken a toll on the depth of the line.

"Our defensive line took a hit this summer when we lost Junior (Coffin) and Josh (Miller) obviously and now, big Tui (Alailefaleula) is a little banged up and so is Milsten so we don't have the depth that we thought we were going to have," said Gilbertson. "I think Terry Johnson had a great camp and so did Manase Hopoi and Jerome Stevens. What we don't have is the experienced depth we thought we were going to have with all those people."

The wide receiver situation still looks very green behind Williams and Charles Frederick but that is where all those new scholarship freshmen receivers will come into use. Gilberston singled out Bobby Whithorne and Sonny Shackelford from the group as the two who have all but earned playing time on Saturday.

"I think Bobby has pulled away form the group," said Gilbertson. "I think he made the most strides in camp but all of them at times have shown some great things like Quentin Daniels and Sonny but I would say Bobby and Sonny in that order have shown us probably the most maturity and are most ready to play."

"These guys are going to go out and get a taste of what prime-time is like."

At the safeties, expect to see Owen Biddle and Jimmy Newell starting on Saturday over Evan Benjamin and James Sims.

"We're going to see how that goes," Gilberston said of the combination. "I think Jimmy, Owen, Evan, and James can all play so they will all play a lot. Jimmy had a great camp, and knock on wood; he's going into a game healthy. I know that's unheard of in his career but I'm excited about him going into a game healthy."

Not many teams get the chance (or is it just bad luck?) to open a season against the defending national champions and Gilbertson knows that this is not just any ordinary game. This will be Gilbertson's first trip into Columbus and he admitted that Columbus will be different than anything else that he has seen as a head coach.

"We are very excited about the opportunity," Gilbertson said about the match-up against the defending national champions. "But we also know the quality of the opponent and the task at hand."

"Am I going to be excited about the game? Heck yeah. Am I going to be nervous? Sure I'm going to be nervous," said Gilbertson. "It's an unbelievable facility they have and they have great players and great passion, but I'm excited about our team as well. I've been a head coach before and I've been to some places that I thought were tough, maybe not anywhere like Columbus obviously, but we're looking forward to it but we also know how good they are."


Notes:
Huskies – Buckeyes Connections: Huskies defensive line coach Randy Hart was a member of the 1968 Buckeyes team that won the national championship. Hart also coached at Ohio State from 1982-1987 before joining Don James at Washington in 1988. Huskies running backs coach Chuck Heater was also a coach on the Buckeyes staff that included Hart and current Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel from 1985-1987. Former Huskies defensive line coach Jim Heacock (1983-1987) now holds the same position on the Buckeyes staff. Finally, there is a little family feud involved in this as well. Carol James, the wife of Don James, is a cousin of coach Tressel.

Bachert back to center: "Todd came off shoulder surgery and we felt that he would have started at tackle had Nick Newton not come back," said Gilbertson. "Newton is now back to full speed and I think that Todd is still recovering from his injury and I don't think that he is back to where he was a year ago. I think that Todd enjoys the inside part of the line rather than the outside so we have a rotation at center with Dan Dicks, Brad Vanneman, and Bachert with Bachert also being able to play guard and tackle. But he will not be starting this week."

Who's kicking?: With less than a week before kickoff, it is still up in the air who will be handling the kicking and punting duties. "I will not," said Gilberston when asked if he will name a number one player before the game. "The competition just may go through the pre-game warm-ups."

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