11/19 Press Conference

Rick Neuheisel was still riding high today after Saturday's Apple Cup victory, and spent much of the Monday's press conference in a playful mood. To one journalist from Miami who tuned in via conference call, the head coach repeatedly joked, "We are not mad at Miami."

It's obvious Neuheisel knows what he's heading into when the team leaves for Miami on Friday morning, and it's also apparent that he doesn't want to give the Hurricane's any added incentive to play their best ball on Saturday.

It'll be the first time the Huskies face a #1 team since playing the great USC team of 1972, which resulted in a 34-7 loss. Now that conference play is finished, Neuheisel says his team's work isn't finished.

"We're not going down there to just get our season over with," he said. "If you come to the University of Washington, you come because you like playing in marquee match ups. And certainly Washington and Miami are two marquee programs in the United States and deserve a big stage. We'll get one this weekend and are excited for it."

Speaking of excited, those are the same words he used for describing the team's victory against Washington State.

"WSU had a wonderful season," Neuheisel explained. "Coming into the game against us they were 9-1 and leading the conference in a number of categories. To win that kind of a game, to finish 6-2 in the conference, and to ensure ourselves at least a second place finish with the chance still of a conference co-championship makes everybody feel good."

But now that the WSU game is over, the Huskies have to shift their focus to the Canes, a team that has pummeled team after team on their way to a flawless 9-0 record.

"We can't feel good for too long because we have a huge challenge ahead of us, that being the University of Miami," Neuheisel said. "Miami is ranked #1 in the country right now and after viewing the video both yesterday and today it's obvious that that's where they belong. They are very talented on both sides of the ball, I don't see any weaknesses on either side of the ball. It's a very well coached, polished football team."

The Hurricanes hold a distinct advantage in nearly every statistical category for this weekend's match up, but the Huskies know that if they can stay close until the game's end they'll have a shot for the upset.

"My hope is that we'll go in there and build on last week's performance in terms of our effort level and try to somehow stay in the ballgame," said Neuheisel. "If we can stay in the ballgame we have had a great deal of experience in close games, and hopefully we can parlay that experience into manufacturing a way to win."

The Huskies have had a perfect history in their two games played in the Orange Bowl, winning twice. The first victory came against Oklahoma in the 1985 Orange Bowl, and the second was the "Whammy in Miami," a 38-20 Husky victory that stopped the Hurricanes home winning streak at 58 games in 1994.

In fact the Huskies have never lost to Miami, winning last season 34-29 in Seattle to move their career record to 2-0 against the Canes.

Saturday's trip to the Orange Bowl will be the first for Neuheisel.

"I'm excited about it because I've never been there," he said. "I've talked to a couple coaches on our staff who have been there and they said it's one of the loudest places around. We'll practice with crowd noise and all that because I'm sure it'll be a stirred up crowd, especially for an 8 p.m. kickoff local time. When you talk about college football, the Orange Bowl is synonymous with one of the great venues in the game. I'm thrilled to have an opportunity to coach in it."

What makes the Canes most dangerous, the Husky head coach says, is the superior play of their offensive and defensive fronts.

"It isn't that we don't have any physical talent in the Pac-10," he said. "The difference is the skill that they possess in their offense and defensive line. They have great, great talent on both fronts, and that's an every-down realization. A skill player doesn't necessarily touch the ball every down, but when you are coming off the ball with the power that they come off the ball with on an every down basis, those are the things that are very apparent when you watch them."

The Hurricane offensive line has been so dominating that it has only allowed two sacks all season long. Washington, meanwhile, is third in the Pac-10 with 21 quarterback sacks, showing just how impressive Miami's performance has been.

Just as impressive has been the play of the Hurricane defense, which has allowed just 72 points this year. When you compare that to their 384 points scored, it's easy to see how they are undefeated and ranked # 1 in the nation.

A lot has been said about playing Miami late in the season versus playing them back in September when the game was originally scheduled, and how the Huskies will be better prepared now. Neuheisel doesn't buy into that.

"There's a lot of things that happened between early September and late November," he said. "There was all types of maturation that took place as well as adversity that struck. I think all of it kind of cancels itself out. I know this, we are excited about playing Miami and we would have been excited about playing Miami if we played them back when it was scheduled."

Neuheisel says that keeping the game in balance is one of the keys to the game for his team.

"Obviously Miami is an explosive juggernaut of a team," he said. "We've got to keep the game reasonable and not have them have a flurry of points, which they are certainly capable of. It reminds me of playing Nebraska while I was at Colorado. You just can't allow that flurry that takes you out. If you look at the two games where we were beaten, we got behind, and it took us completely out of our game plan and forced us into being one-dimensional."

In order to keep the game close, the head coach will have to get better production out of his punt team, which gave up two more blocked punts to WSU to bring the season total to six.

"I'm disappointed in myself with regard to our punt team," Neuheisel said. "You can't put Bandaids on things and think that they are stopped. We have to work harder than what we've worked. The responsibility lies with me. I've got to make sure that our punt team performs better. I don't want to blame players, I want to blame me, and I want to fix it."

Notes:

Holiday Bowl Bound...Probably: Pete Litrenta of the Holiday Bowl selection committee was at the press conference today and announced that the committee chose Washington to play in the Dec. 28 bowl game. The invitation is contingent on whether or not the Huskies get back into the BSC picture after the Miami game. The BSC didn't release the UW yet, meaning nothing will be official until next Monday. Worst-case scenario: the Huskies lose and head to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl. Best-case scenario: Washington beats Miami and has a chance to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Even with a win Saturday, though, the Huskies still could very well be out of the BSC and wind up in San Diego.

Neuheisel couldn't be more pleased with today's announcement. "The Holiday Bowl is one of the premier bowl games out there," he said. "You could talk to coaches all throughout the country and there is not a more preferred destination than San Diego. It's a wonderful place to take your players and to take your coaches and their families, and it's a great place to reward. That's ultimately the goal of all bowl games is to reward the colleges and the programs involved. If we are fortunate enough to get to go to San Diego, we would be honored to do that. The hospitality group there is the best in the business."

Take it from Me, Take the Plane: At 3,033 miles, this week's trip is the longest Division I college football trip in the continental U.S. Speaking from past experience, I can tell you it's either a five-and-a-half hour flight or an 83-hour bus trip - that's three-and-a-half days.

TV Time: The Washington-Miami game will air to a split-national audience at 5 p.m PST on ABC-TV with Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Bob Greise (color), and Lynn Swann (sidelines).

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