10/22 Press Conference

Let's cut to the chase - this weekend's Husky-Sun Devil game down in the Valley of the Sun will be a nailbiter. Forget the point spread, forget the different matchups, one way or another it's all going to come down to a miraculous drive in the final minutes.

That's a give-in, right?

Well, that's the way it's seemed this year. Other than the UCLA and Idaho games, every other Husky game has come down to the wire. Luckily for Washington, they've come out on top on all four of those games, beating Michigan, California, USC, and Arizona by a grand total of 14 points.

This week's opponent, Arizona State, is hard to evaluate due to their weak non-conference schedule. They've won three of their four games against cupcakes in the form of San Diego State, San Jose State, and Louisiana-Lafayette. Their lone conference win came last week against Oregon State, when they ran away in the fourth quarter to win 41-24. Prior to that, they were torched by both Stanford (51-28) and USC (48-17).

"Their non-conference schedule was not real taxing and so they were able to gain some confidence," Husky Head Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "But in conference play, they've been able to still play real well on the offensive side of the ball."

Neuheisel understands that his team will have to be prepared for a dog fight come Saturday given the fact that ASU is coming off an important conference win.

"They are coming off a huge win against Oregon State," Neuheisel said. "You know they are feeling really good about themselves after a Pac-10 win. It was in front of a home crowd that was obviously excited, and they will be at a fevered pitch for this weekend's contest."

One of the Neuheisel's main concerns regarding this weekend's matchup will be in the ground game on both sides of the ball. That will mean both their offensive line and defensive line will have to improve from their performances in the last two weeks.

The head coach attributes the early struggles on each side of the line to the large numbers of inexperienced players playing there.

"If you look at our offense and defensive lines, we're playing with lot of young players that are learning on the run," he said. "We have four first-time starters in the offensive front, and against Arizona, of the six guys that took snaps on the defensive front, four of them were first-year players. If you add Zach Tuiasosopo to that, there's a fifth one. While we're trying to get better, we're also gaining valuable experience."

Arizona State's runningback Delvon Flowers, who chose the Sun Devils over the Huskies two years ago, is coming off the best game of his career in which he ran for 226 yards and two touchdowns. He's finally healthy for the first time all season, and runs behind a tremendous, four-senior offensive line.

"I think Arizona State has at least one of - if not the best - offensive lines in the conference," Neuheisel said. "And given that we've given up a lot of rushing yards in the last two weeks, that doesn't exactly sit well in the matchup. We've got to do a great job in stopping the run this week and improve upon our efforts of the last two weeks."

ASU Head Coach Dirk Koetter is well known for his complex offensive schemes. With that being said, it will be a tall task for the Husky defense to stop the Sun Devils and their air-it-out attack.

"They like to spread you out," Neuheisel said. "It's very much an Oregon philosophy. Dirk Koetter was the coordinator at Oregon prior to moving to Boise State. They like to throw the ball, and they also are pretty adept at running it when you start to try to cover them down. Delvon Flowers' game this last week adds another dimension to their already potent attack."

On the offensive side of the ball, the Huskies will NEED to establish a ground game this week. It's like beating a dead horse, but at some point the lack of a rushing attack will be prove to be detrimental. In fact, last week's record-breaking passing performance by Cody Pickett came largely because of the fact that the Huskies couldn't get anything going on the the ground. It forced them to pass, and pass too much. In order to consistently be successful at the college level, it's important to run the ball. Evidence of that is the fact that Washington is just 13-14 all-time when one of their quarterbacks throws for over 300 yards. High passing totals don't necessary translate into wins.

Willie Hurst suffered a bruised quad against Arizona, and will likely be held out of practice for much of the week, but Neuheisel said he figures the senior tailback will be ready by Saturday. Unless the offensive line does a better job of creating holes, though, there's no telling whether a healthy Hurst, or Rich Alexis for that matter, will real really matter.

One of the bright spots in Saturday's poorly played game was the fact that Pickett didn't reinjure his shoulder, and should be ready to go again this week.

"I think Cody Pickett came out of the game healthy, and I think he'll be ready to improve upon his performance from last week," the Husky head coach said. "That doesn't necessarily translate to more numbers - obviously the numbers were high (last week) - but I think he gained a great deal of experience from the contest given the number of times he dropped back to throw."

Meanwhile, the news keeps getting better. Backup quarterback Taylor Barton is feeling better from the beating he took in the UCLA game.

"I think Taylor will be full-go (this week)," Neuheisel said. "He's having one more set of tests just to make sure that everything tests as it should. That test should be completed by this afternoon, and my anticipation is that he'll be full-go."

Keeping them healthy could be tough against against the Sun Devils, a team that likes to get to the quarterback to take pressure off their young and inexperienced secondary. True sophomore defensive end Terrell Suggs, a player that Washington wanted bad coming out of Chandler, Arizona, leads the Pac-10 with nine sacks. He played runningback in high school and many dubbed him the next Ron Dayne, but he moved to the defensive line once he got to college and is already one of the best around. Suggs also leads the conference in forced fumbles (4) and is second to UCLA linebacker Robert Thomas in tackles for a loss (14).

"He's a very gifted player," Neuheisel said. "He's maybe the fastest defensive lineman we'll face all season. It'll be a challenge (to stop him)."


Husky Notes:

National Exposure: The Husky-Sun Devil game will be nationally televised on Fox Sports Net, and will kick off at 7:15 p.m. (MST and PDT). Steve Physioc (play-by-play), Tom Ramsey (color), and Lewis Johnson (sidelines) will call the action.

No Tree TV: Next week's Stanford-Washington game was not picked up by Fox, and will not be televised. The replay of the game will be available Sunday at 3 p.m.

Another Husky Honored: Cody Pickett was named Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Week after his 455-yard, 3-touchdown game against Arizona on Saturday.

Dawgs Healing: Injured linebackers Kai Ellis and Tyler Krambrink both figure to return for this weekend's game, according to Neuheisel. "How much they play remains to be seen, but both I think will be available," he said.

Tempe or Bust: This weekend's game in Tempe will be the second year in a row that the Huskies play down in the desert. They are scheduled to play at ASU again next season, then will have a two-year break in the series versus the Sun Devils. By the time ASU plays at Husky Stadium again, it will be 2005.

Washington Connections: Two Sun Devil sophomores, receiver Skyler Fulton and fullback Mike Karney, are Washington-natives. Fulton was an all-state performer in both baseball and football while at Capital High School in Olympia. So far this year he has seven receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown. Karney was an honorable-mention All-American selection out of Kentwood High School in Kent, and has been used primarily as a blocker thus far in his college career. On the season, he has 5 rushes for 17 yards.

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