Monday Press Conference

The 7-1 Huskies were riding high after a big win against Stanford. They were starting to click. The team was not only winning, they were improving. The running game was back on track. The passing game was becoming harder and harder to stop.

Then the unthinkable happened, a lopsided loss to Dennis Erickson's Oregon State Beavers, a team the Huskies hadn't lost to since 1985. Now the Huskies, ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press rankings and No. 14 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, will have to regroup in time for one of the biggest Apple Cup games in history. Washington State, ranked No. 9 and No. 10 respectively after a win over Arizona State, will be the second consecutive Top 10 team to come to Husky Stadium.

Husky Head Coach Rick Neuheisel will look to pick up the pieces from the blowout in Corvallis, and prepare for Mike Price's Cougars.

"We're disappointed that we didn't play nearly as well as we could have," he said of the OSU game. "We do give credit to Oregon State, they did play extremely well and we need now to pick ourselves up, and get going, and play with everything we've got this weekend. Otherwise it will be another long afternoon. I think everybody that has been a part of this program has dealt with some adversity and has always risen to the occasion after the fact. I'm anxious to see us do just that."

Much of Saturday's disaster can be attributed to execution, or lack thereof, from the Huskies on both sides of the ball. The Beavers converted 10-15 third down opportunities, while the Huskies managed just 3-15 in the same situations. That's one area that will have to improve come Saturday.

"We've just got to play better on third down," said Neuheisel. "That to me is the key of the ballgame. We've got to get people off the field. It's really critical this week because I think Washington State is first in both categories coming into this week - first in conversions on third down and first in getting people off the field on third down. We're fourth in third down conversions and last in third down conversions against us, so therein lies the key to the game. We need to play better on third down."

The head coach is right. Here are the actual figures. Washington State has converted 40.9 percent of their third down conversion, while the Huskies are at a 37.7 percent clip for the season. Defensively, the Cougars have held opponents to a 27 percent conversion rate, while Washington has only caused the offense to come off the field 42.9 percent of the time. That's going to have to change for Washington to beat the Cougars.

Part of the reason that the Huskies were unable to get the Beavers off the field last week was because of breakdowns on plays where the team most needed to execute.

"We had some guys that just had some mental breakdowns and didn't cover the back," Neuheisel said, explaining plays like the one where tailback Ken Simonton escaped through the line for an open pass. "We had people assigned to them who just didn't do it. And those are the kinds of things that disappoint you. I say it as if it's the kids' fault, but it's the coaches fault that he didn't get the kid to do it."

The head coach says that there are two ways to fix the mistakes.

"One is to say this, that, or the other thing. . . 'they just played great.' The second is to blame yourself and figure out what you can do better. Of the two, the second way certainly brings about some change that is going to let you be a little bit more thorough the next week. You have to make the corrections, and everybody in our program has to do that. It's a part of the deal, you accept blame instead of deflect it."

Despite some bad decision making and lack of execution, Neuheisel felt his team again battled until the bitter end and never gave up in Reser Stadium.

"I do admire our kids being willing to fight all the way until the end of the game," he said. "We came back and scored again. I know it seems like a consolation touchdown, but it shows that there was character and there were guys that were unwilling to just give up the ship. It's much the same reason why we've been successful coming back and winning games late (all season)."

Now it's time to focus for Washington State, to erase all memories of the Orange and Black. In doing so, Neuheisel says he hasn't even thought about the match up against Miami the week after the Apple Cup. The game against the Hurricanes was rescheduled because of the Sept. 11 terrorist acts, and will be the first time the Apple Cup isn't the last game of the regular season since 1948.

"The Miami game is the furthest thing from our minds," said Neuheisel. "It's as far away as geographically Miami is. We have one game to play, and that is the Apple Cup. If we are successful we'll be excited about our season. We need to fight, scratch, claw, and do everything we can to be successful."

Price brings to Seattle a Cougar team that is experienced and playing with confidence. As potent as Wazzu's offense has been all season, it's the defense that may potentially be even more dangerous. The secondary, to be more specific, is a large area of concern, especially with the poor game that Cody Pickett had last week.

"I think they're playing really well," said Neuheisel of the Cougar defensive backs. "They've got a lot of interceptions. Lamont Thompson had four in one game. They are capable of providing run support. Billy Newman is one of the surest tacklers in our league. With Marcus Trufant back in the lineup, certainly they have a great cover corner. Jason David, their other cornerback, plays really well. So I think they have a very solid secondary."

The Huskies will need a much better performance this week from Pickett, who finished a mere 13-32 in Corvallis. There's no telling how much his shoulder is hurting. All that is a sure thing is the fact that Pickett is one of the toughest guys on the team, and won't take himself out of the game unless something is seriously wrong. Did his separated throwing shoulder hurt his production against the Beavers?

Neuheisel doesn't think so.

"There's all kinds of theories on that," he said. "You could say that his arm was getting tired, you could say that he just never quite got settled. I prefer his explanation that he just didn't play very well. He's anxious to play again this week. We've won a lot of games with him playing back there and hopefully we're going to win a lot more."

On the other side of the ball the Cougars have quarterback Jason Gesser, a playmaker in his own right. The redshirt junior from Hawaii leads the Pac-10 in total offense with 259.5 yards per game, and also is the leader of the Pac in passing yards per game with 250.2.

"I think he just finds ways to move the chains get the ball down the field, and he's hard to tackle," said Neuheisel. "He's the kind of guy that's going to keep plays alive and make you hold your breath all afternoon. He's a main reason why they've had the kind of season they've had."

The Huskies will need to somehow pressure Gesser and force him to hurry his decisions on Saturday. He, like Pickett, is dinged up, but still is a threat on every snap. Washington got no sacks against OSU, and will need to get in the backfield to contain Gesser.

"We'd love to get pressure on the quarterback," Neuheisel said. "There's two ways. You either beat somebody at the point of attack and you get up the field and make a play, or you blitz. And in blitzing, you expose yourself to man-to-man coverage. Then you have to cover. We'll try a little of all of them."

"Gesser's been hard to get down. He is an elusive guy."

Offensively, WSU has plenty of other weapons. Take senior running back Dave Minnich for example, who has 732 yards on the ground in 2001. Neuheisel likes what the bruising ball-carrier brings to the table.

"He's a very accomplished tailback," said the head coach. "He is what they need him to be. They play in a one-back set and he's a slasher that can get you first downs. He may not be as explosive of a guy as an Onterrio Smith or a DeShaun Foster, or even a Delvon Flowers, but certainly he's a guy that does what they need him to do. And he's obviously an important cog to their team leadership."

Also, the Cougs have plenty of options to throw to through the air. Receivers Nakoa McElrath and Mike Bush each have over 850 yards receiving, and combine to have 102 receptions and 16 touchdowns. Redshirt junior has 25 receptions for 520 yards and four touchdowns.

"They've got big playmakers out there," said Neuheisel of the Cougar receivers. "It's obvious that they've really been explosive. It was a concern for them at the outset of the season. I know they were wondering who were going to be the playmakers, and obviously they've done a nice job of developing them."

All the elements are there for this to be a memorable Apple Cup. A Husky win would likely send them to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. A loss and the team drops to 7-3 with two losses in a row heading to Miami for the match up against the Hurricanes.

It's going to be interesting. Don't take it from me, take it from the head coach himself.

"We are looking forward to the Apple Cup game as is always the case at this time of year," Neuheisel said. "It promises to be an electric atmosphere given that Washington State is having such a wonderful season. Fortunately we are playing at Husky Stadium and hopefully that will be a little bit of an asset for us given our home crowd."

"We were playing well and were improving as a football team prior to Oregon State, we just took a step backwards. It's time to get back on the horse and go."

Husky Notes:

Cats and Dawgs: The Washington-Washington State series dates back to 1900 and the Huskies hold a commanding 60-27-6 edge, having won the past three meetings. Washington is 35-14-5 all-time in Seattle. Interestingly enough, neither team has won more than three consecutive games in the series since the Huskies eight-game winning streak from 1974-1981. This is only the fifth time in history that both teams have been ranked at game time.

Final Two on the Tube: The two remaining Husky regular season games with both be on ABC-TV. The Apple Cup kickoff on Nov. 17 is set for 12:30 p.m. The announcing crew will be Keith Jackson (play-by-play), Tim Brant (color), and Todd Harris (sidelines). The Nov. 24 game at Miami is set to start at 5 p.m.

Word for the wise: The University of Washington would like to advise fans to arrive to the Apple Cup early on Saturday due to the time it takes to inspect every personal bag brought into Husky Stadium.

Billy Joe's record safe: Washington loss on Saturday was the first time Cody Pickett lost a game as a starter in his college career. He was 7-0 prior to OSU, with the Huskies only previous loss this year coming against UCLA, a game in which backup Taylor Barton started. Billy Joe Hobert, who started 16 games from 1991-92, never lost a game he started. In fact, the Huskies never lost a game that Hobert played in, spanning a remarkable 27 games from 1990-92.

Injury Updates: Safety Owen Biddle, who injured his shoulder midway through the OSU game on Saturday, is questionable for the Apple Cup. Neuheisel said that his status is still unknown, but that his hope is that he'll be available. Top Stories