Coaches offer little fuel for this fire

There's little doubt that the remaining tensions that exist between Washington and Oregon football are merely a shadow of their hyperbolic selves. Is that a bad thing? It's not as if the two schools have had trouble getting fired up to play each other in the nearly 100 times they have played before; let's just say the 'Neuheisel factor' won't be around to tune the thing up a notch or two. And that suits Mike Bellotti and Tyrone Willingham just fine.

If you are the Huskies, don't expect to see video loops made solely of the Kenny Wheaton interception against the '94 Huskies behind the scenes for motivation (something Neuheisel did). In fact, when asked if he knew about Wheaton's place in Washington's football history Monday (see: 'The Pick'), Willingham looked back at the press like a dog being shown a card trick. Perhaps he was just being sarcastic, but it's clear he's not going to try and push the buttons of Oregon's fanbase the way Neuheisel did in striking fashion. It's doubtful you'll see Washington's team parading around Autzen Stadium for a good 15-20 minutes after a win and posing for pictures, as they did in 2002. And Willingham certainly can't re-create the 'Northwest Championship'; Neuheisel owns the copyright.

Neuheisel isn't alone when it comes to throwing barbs during UO-UW week and beyond. Chambers Communications created a video that showed Neuheisel mixed in with images from the movie 'Airplane' that portrayed the UW Head Coach in a less-than-stellar light (retching included). The Ducks showed the video roughly half-a-dozen times during the 2002 Civil War, at a time when many recruits looking at both UW and UO were in Eugene on official visits. Washington sent a letter of protest to the Pac-10 offices because of it.

Rick certainly tried his best to invent things off the field to rile up his team on it; Willingham is all about keeping things between the hedges (pun unintended). "I don't think the personalities of the coaches has fueled any of that," Bellotti said Monday when asked if there is a genuine hate between the two schools. "It's still there between boosters and fans, but as coaches and staffs, we're into this to win. A lot of the other stuff - either pre or post-game - I haven't been a fan of. The game itself, instead of all the antics, should be the focus."

And Willingham? "There's a certain segment of fans that think this is the most important rivalry that we have," he said. "There are others that believe that Washington State is the most important rivalry. I split myself accordingly and undertstand that this week, this is the most important rivalry that we have."

Fuel? I'm not sure you could get from Seattle to Federal Way in a hybrid car with that stuff.

There's a reason Duck hunting season coincides with the day of the game, and those that have made that point to Willingham have also given him ample understanding of it's importance. "They say it's very intense and said, 'Coach, win that game,'".

The fans are giving him the fuse, but Willingham isn't supplying the explosives. Those quotes aren't the kind of pre-game rallying cry that's going to inspire hundred-car purple-and-gold convoys down I-5 to invade the Willamette Valley, but for those late to the party - Willingham has never been about that. And frankly, he doesn't have the guns right now to loosen his lips publically anyways.

Further complicating problems for the Huskies is the fact that they've never really played the spread-option attack before, the offense brought over from BYU with new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. In a sense, Washington will probably be going back to the same mindset they had going into their season-opener against Air Force; assignment football. "Coach Crowton has done a marvelous job of blending in the spread and still putting together his rushing attack," said Willingham. "They've done a nice job with it. "If you put an offense in a ten-yard box and have to defend it, it would probably be far easier than putting them in a 53-yard box and having to defend them. It really stresses a defense."

While the Huskies were nursing themselves back to health during a bye week, they had the rare opportunity of being able to watch next week's opponent in action. The Ducks went down to Tempe and beat up on #17 Arizona State. They ripped the Sun Devils apart with a very balanced offensive attack that amassed 512 total yards. Their 35 points per game average has the Huskies nearly doubled-up (20.4).

"It's a diverse offense," said Bellotti about the change in philosophy. "The ball has been spread more. We've had 13 or 15 different athletes catch passes for us. Our point production is up, our first downs are up and our yardage is up, although it's really the points that count."

"When we started the season, I thought Oregon would be one of those teams that would be at the top," said Willingham. "Clearly, everyone thought SC would be the leading team, but after that you could probably put a hat over a couple of teams and Oregon was one of those teams. None of their play is surprising."

And the genuflections come from the other side of the aisle with equal ease. "I have great respect and admiration for Coach Willingham," said Bellotti. "He and I are good friends and good golfing buddies when we get the opportunity. I root for him most everywhere when he plays against me. I think he's a very good football coach, good person and will do good things.

"Washington is a very dangerous team because they are a better team than their record indicates. They are a physical team and this is a great rivalry. We're excited about this game."

Where's Keith Lewis when you need him?


Notes:
Stewart contributing: Scout.com's #1 RB prospect from last year, Timberline's Jonathan Stewart, has been hampered by some nagging injuries, but continues to play for Oregon. He's listed at number-two in the depth at tailback, and Bellotti said he'll continue to use the true frosh in as many ways as he can think of.

"I feel really good about our depth at tailback," said Bellotti. "It's somewhat fluid in the sense that Terrence (Whitehead) is the starter, but the other guys will play situationally. There are plays we like for Jonathan and Jeremiah (Johnson), and we feel that they are one of the best one-two punches in the country in terms of signing great tailbacks." Whitehead had 222 all-purpose yards in the Ducks' win over ASU.

"Forget about state boundaries, he's just a good player," Willingham said of Stewart and his last-minute attempts to lure the long-time UO lean to Montlake. "And you want to have good players on your team and not on someone else's team. You're never sure until you get the young man on your campus. I believe he came up unofficially. but it makes it difficult to believe that you have a shot at him. If you can convince him to do it officially, then you've got a chance. We were hopeful, but it didn't work out."

Recruiting abounds: Because of the bye week, Washington had as many as seven coaches on the road at various locations scouting players and checking on academics. It's all part of a process Willingham knows will be long and arduous, but hopefully fruitful come signing day. "When Coach James was here, there was probably a strong relationship with the high school coaches in terms of identifying with the program," he said when asked about Washington's current connection with in-state recruiting resources. "It's probably suffered a little bit, and hopefully we can go in and re-kindle some of those feelings. With the exposure of Washington athletes and Washington high school football, there's a general respect that's occurring around the country for the football that's played here. And I think that's being inherited by the coaches themselves. They are taking a lot more pride in the level of football that they play.

"And there should be a wonderful pride and identity with the state when you are - what I call - the 'state university'. We want to have that connection with the high school coaches and the high school players and it's just a good thing for our football team to keep those great players that are in-state right here."

Injury update: Willingham didn't mention anything new in regards to injury, although he did put Manase Hopoi in as 'probable' after the released two-deep against Oregon had the senior DT as an 'OR' with sophomore Wilson Afoa. He also said that the coaches will start getting a better feel for the possibility of returning players, like Joe Toledo and Chad Macklin. Neither Toledo nor Macklin was listed in UW's official two-deeps.


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