Rick Neuheisel press conference notes and quotes

A tale of two halves was the story on Saturday and remained the story during Monday's press conference. Head coach Rick Neuheisel addressed the media today to discuss his team's performance on Saturday against the Spartans of San Jose State, as well their upcoming bye week.

The head coach acknowledged that the first half of last week's game left much to be desired. "We are excited to have earned our first victory of the year; it was not a beautiful thing especially after looking at the tape of the first half," Neuheisel said. "But we played much more like what I anticipated for our group in the second half. We just need to build on that."

Obviously the 34-point second half output by the offense as well as the shutout by the defense sat a little better with coach Neuheisel. "In the second half we did get pressure on the quarterback, and we were able to shut down their offense," he said. "They had 37 yards of offense in the second half, so I thought the intensity got to be where we needed it to be. The second half looked like what I envisioned for Husky football. I'm anxious to see us continue along that vein, and hopefully not have to take very long, as games begin, to get up to game speed. I'm anxious to improve in that regard starting with the Wyoming game.

"Maybe we'll come to the stadium a half hour earlier or something. I don't know that it's something that happens all the time. We've had some good starts in the past. I think we have a tendency to do a feeling out early in ball games. Sometimes we have a script on offense and maybe we ought to stop that. Maybe we over analyze the things we're doing to start a game and rather than just going out and letting it wing. Because when we do that we look pretty good. We'll keep evaluating it. We certainly don't want to get a goose egg the entire season in the first quarter."

The biggest change in scheme between the first and second half was the switch to mainly man coverage in the defensive backfield. Although it was successful, Neuheisel is the first to say that the Huskies need to work on their zones. "We decided to go with more man coverage," said Neuheisel. "Come after them a little bit. We felt like we'd seen what they were doing, felt like we could keep up with their misdirection, counter-action coming off the back end and so we decided to go after them a little more and obviously that paid off.

"We played still some zone. We have got to do a better job carrying things into the second level. The linebacker level is sitting a little too low in our zone defense. We gotta do better at carrying the number two receiver, the guy coming from the outside in, so that he can't get into those seams and catch the ball behind us."

The defense still has a ways to go, yet is on a steep learning curve with so many young players involved. "I think our defense is…promising," he said. "I don't know that we're there yet. But I think there's reason for optimism. I think all the defensive coaches are anxious to get busy this week to make sure we get better. And we've got time to get better." Manase Hopoi and Evan Benjamin were singled out as players who had great games, but had a lot to learn. "Our young players just gotta keep maturing. Young players playing for the first time just having to come along a little faster," said Neuheisel.

Washington began to click offensively in the second half, led by Pac-10 offensive player of the week Reggie Williams. The sophomore wide receiver had six catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns, including one for 89 yards. The 89 yarder was the longest touchdown reception in Washington history. His sprint down the sideline, outrunning every Spartan defender, seemingly nullified previous doubts about Williams being in game shape. "I think Reggie played well, I think there are things that like all of our players he can do better, but I'm certainly glad that he's on our team. His conditioning was suspect in game one, and I think he certainly was better in game 2, but it was a cool day," said Neuheisel.

"He'll be fine, I don't think it's an issue any more. It was never meant to be a knock on Reggie. It's an impossibility to stay in great shape when you're not able to practice. That's not his fault. It's the fault of the foot. But if that serves as a needle in his side, and he plays like he did on Saturday with a needle in his side, then I'll be quick to insert it."

The other wide receivers are benefiting from the attention being given to Williams by opposing secondaries. Washington's deep corps of receivers has been playing solid, dependable football. With so many receivers with talent and experience, Neuheisel is faced with a good problem to have. "One of them doesn't need to emerge but they need to be consistent," he said. "So that when we come to that side of the field on any particular play we have a reliable receiver running it. Part of me wants to conserve them. Not use them all at one time. But they're all playing so well its difficult to sit there and say you red-shirt, you sit…we just go."

Senior Paul Arnold is one of those wideouts, but is not up to full speed just yet, but Neuheisel feels that the captain will have his time. "I think Paul's fine," Neuheisel said. "I think he's still bothered a little bit by a nagging ankle. Sometimes when you're in an offense that has this deep a receiving corps, sometimes its just not your turn. I feel very fortunate we have this number of kids. And we'll keep them all coming and they'll all make their share of big plays."

The recent high-octane showings by the Huskies are not going unnoticed. "Youngsters across the country are noticing that we have got a nice looking group of wide receivers and its interesting to see how many recruits want to be part of this offense," said Neuheisel.

After this bye week the Huskies will play on 10 consecutive Saturdays. Nevertheless, Neuheisel believes that now is good time for a week off. "As I looked at it at the season start, I would've preferred it a little later, but given where we are now and the experiences the first two weeks I think it falls at a perfect place," he said. "I'm excited about improving and improving a great deal in the next four days."

The coach is looking forward to the extra time as a chance to shore up some areas of the game that he felt needed some work. "We're in a good situation right now. We got our win and we've also got lots of evidence to show to our team, not only can we get better, but we've got to get better. We want to continue to get better as a running team, make sure our offense is complementing itself, one play is leading to another play. And giving defenses more to worry about then just what they're seeing.

"We want to play better zone defense. I want to continue to address our special teams. I thought we were much improved from week one to week two but we can get better, and I'm anxious to do that. Also develop more inventory, we also have the ability now in our open week to develop more inventory. And give opponents something more to worry about."


Notes:
Brax Back: Braxton Cleman is back practicing with the team after missing the first two games due to injury.

3rd Down is a priority: Coach Neuheisel was emphatic about improving the Dawg's 3rd down defense. "We're going to play better on third down…that's a promise."

Robbins and Newell: The timeline for the return of WR Justin Robbins and FS Jimmy Newell has been set for Idaho. Both players will look to return to action, along with Elliot Zajac, in anticipation of the September 28th game against the Vandals.

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