Earlier in the season it looked like Oregon would have their way with anyone, then Stanford went into Eugene and pulled out a win.
Then it was UCLA that was given the title after pummeling Washington in Pasadena. Since then they've lost two games. Last week it was Stanford, who couldn't live up to the hype and lost to the Huskies in Seattle. Enter Rick Neuheisel's group of guys, a team that has won three games in a row after the debacle at UCLA and now controls its own destiny.
"We are excited about the position that we find ourselves in at this point in November," Neuheisel said.
In facing the Beavers this week the Huskies have the task of playing a very hungry team, much like they did when they went up against USC a month ago. At (3-5, 2-4 Pac-10), the Beavers have been a big disappointment this season after much preseason hype and need to win their final three games to be bowl eligible. That makes them a dangerous opponent for the Huskies (7-1, 5-1 Pac-10), who now find themselves in a three-way tie atop the conference standings after the Stanford victory.
Neuheisel downplayed the thought of looking ahead to BCS possibilities , and said his team's full attention will have to be on the task at hand this Saturday.
"It will be a fevered Oregon State crowd. I expect it to be a war," said the Washington head coach. "Our entire focus now is on Corvallis. It's going to take our very best for us to win."
The Beavers have struggled to find consistency on both sides of the ball this season, especially on offense, where they were thought to be as explosive as anyone in the conference in 2001. Senior tailback Ken Simonton has been held to just 78.6 yards per game, and quarterback Jonathan Smith has passed for only eight touchdowns all season. The Beavers benefited from the big-play last season, and that's been a missing element on this year's team. A new group of receivers hasn't been able to step up with the play making ability that Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh did in 2000.
So what are Neueheisel's main concerns about the Beaver team this year?
"Stopping the run," he said without hesitation. "They did pretty much whatever they wanted to us last year."
And to control the ground game the Huskies will continue to look for improvement from their young defensive line. The team took a hit in the off season when Ryan Julian and Ossim Hatem both had career-ending injuries, and have asked a lot from some of their younger players all season long. Josh Miller, Tui Alailefaleula, Junior Coffin, and Terry Johnson all are first year contributors who have had to grow up fast in defensive line coach Randy Hart's system. With each game, the group has gained more confidence
and started to play increasingly instinctual. Seniors Larry Tripplett and Marcus Roberson have played a pivotal role in helping the youngsters learn the intricacies the position.
"Much like the offensive front, we've had to go through a youth movement there," said Neuheisel, referring to his defensive line. "Hopefully the team will benefit from the experience they get."
Miller, a second year player who redshirted last season, drew praise from his head coach for his steady improvement as a Husky.
"Josh Miller is a great story, "Neuheisel said. "He came in last season overweight at 300 pounds and was homesick beyond belief. He questioned his decision to come to Washington. Since then he's worked as hard as anyone in the weight room and trimmed down to 278 pounds with low body fat. As he improves and gets more experienced I think he'll be a valuable member of our team."
On the offensive side of the ball Washington could get a huge boost this week with the return of tight end Jerramy Stevens. He's been cleared by team doctors to return to the practice field, but it's unknown how effective he'll be.
Stevens' six-game absence has helped junior Kevin Ware blossom and become more of a threat on the field. Ware caught two crucial passes late in the Stanford game and has become one of the best blockers on the team, even winning the team's player of the game honors for his play against Arizona State two weeks ago.
One of the guys who's benefited from Ware's emergence is quarterback Cody Pickett, who's had a lot of time to sit in the pocket and pick defenses apart. Other than the UCLA game, the Husky pass protection has been very respectable all season long, giving up only 16 sacks. That ranks third best in the conference.
Given the time to pass and make decisions, Pickett's growth has been impressive in his first year as the team's starting quarterback. His great play hasn't gone unnoticed.
"He's got things that you don't coach," Neuheisel said. "He's got toughness, both mental and physical. His leadership skills have been heightened with his ability to play during discomfort, and he's led the team in crunch time. When Marques Tuiasosopo left, many wondered whether Cody would be able to come in and make plays, but he's a really good athlete who's done a great job of making plays."
Climbing the Charts: The Huskies are ranked #8 in the latest BCS poll. Their rating of 17.55 ranks behind Nebraska (2.62), Miami (6.61), Oklahoma (7.83), Tennessee (12.74), Texas (13.93), Oregon (14.80), and Florida (15.84).
Revving to Go: Receivers Reggie Williams (quad bruise) and Wilbur Hooks
(shoulder), who both had to leave Saturday's game early, figure to play against OSU.
On the Tube: The UW-OSU game will be nationally televised on Fox Sports Net
at 12:30 p.m. Steve Physioc (play-by-play) and Tom Ramsey (color analyst) will call the game from the booth and Lewis Johnson will be on the sidelines. It's also been announced that ABC will pick up the Apple Cup on November 17. Kickoff against WSU is set for 12:30 p.m.
No Contest: Washington holds a commanding 55-26-4 record in the all-time series against Oregon State, having won the last 13 meetings and 23 of the last 24.
Forth-Down Fortitude: The Huskies are an amazing 9-10 on fourth down this
Aerial Assault: Washington's average of 289.5 passing yards per game this
season would set a school record if it holds up over the rest of the season.
11/5/01 Monday Press Conference
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