Rick Neuheisel Press Conference – 10/14/02

After the thriller against those pesky Wildcats of Arizona, the Huskies finished off their five-game home stand on a positive note and ready to take their act on the road. The Dawgs will be playing outside the comfort of Husky Stadium for the first time in nearly 50 days this Saturday as they travel to Los Angeles to face USC. Washington Head Coach Rick Neuheisel met with the media for his weekly press conference at the Don James Center to discuss the issues.

"We are looking forward to the contest this weekend at Southern Cal," Neuheisel started out. "They certainly are a very, very good team and one that poses a lot of challenges to our football team, but the most important thing is for us to stay in the race, we need to find a way to find a win on the road. Not just get a win over a quality opponent but get a win on the road to give us confidence for the rest of our season."

After two conference games already in the books, the Huskies and the rest of the Pac-10 has seen what the conference has to offer. There is hardly any argument that the conference is very tough this year top to bottom with all the down-to-the-wire games.

"It's a pivotal ballgame for us and I'm looking forward the challenge and our football team is looking forward to the challenge. We've been at home for five straight weeks and I think a change of venue might be a good thing so we'll just wait and see.

"We're going to work our tails off this week and I anticipate the game to be extremely physical. I anticipate them (USC) trying to run it down our throats and to throw the ball and certainly with the great defense that they have and the way they have been able to stuff some other opponents, namely Oregon State and Colorado, they're going to try to do a similar type of thing to us so its going to be a tremendous challenge for our football team and one, frankly we're looking forward to."

However, even with an important conference game less than a week away, Neuheisel could not dodge questions regarding his past dealings with the NCAA and his reputation. One southern California columnist asked as to why people may react to himself as "polar-extremes."

"That sounds like a better question for you to answer. It sounds like you have a column in mind," Neuheisel answered half-jokingly. "I don't know. I don't have any idea. I'll be anxious to read. I'm not trying to be a smart you-know-what. I can't tell you what. It's going to be an interesting read."

Last week was a tough week for Neuheisel and the Huskies. With the shocking loss to California still fresh on their minds, the NCAA certainly did not make things any easier to deal with it all.

"It was no fun at all. But if this job were easy, everybody could do it. The bottom line is you have days that are a lot of fun and days that are more of a challenge. The guys who are able to stay the course and do the job in a long-term capacity are the ones that can weather all of it.

"First, you can't believe it when they are saying really nice things about you, and second you can't buy it when they're telling you that you're worthless."

When asked as to whether the level of venom and the personal character attacks coming out of Colorado surprised him at all, Neuheisel was quick to answer that it was no shock to him at all.

"No. The level of venom did not surprise me. The only thing that disappointed me was when they misspelled my name."

Just a week after the return of starting guard Elliot Zajac, the offensive line took another hit with starting strong tackle Nick Newton suffering from an ankle sprain in the second quarter against Arizona.

"I think we're doing OK in the offensive line but were banged up. Elliot (Zajac) is not 100% but certainly he lends a certain amount of tenacity to front and leadership and so forth but he's not 100%," said Neuheisel. "In the last game we lost Nick Newton for the majority of the contest and we'll just have to wait and see if he'll be able to make it for the USC game. We're dealing with some injuries there but it's a part of football."

If the injury will cause Newton to miss Saturday's game, look for red-shirt freshmen Rob Meadow to step up and take over. Meadow did a fine job playing for the injured Newton on Saturday and earned a lot of praise.

With another less than stellar output on the ground, the Huskies continue to try to find the right chemistry to provide a find a way to make them as big of threat on the ground as they are in the air. Saturday against Arizona, the Huskies did indeed utilize the running game more and provided a better balance than the week before.

"There are a couple of things about our running game. Certainly we tried to increase the emphasis on the running game last week," said Neuheisel. "The productivity in the running game was not what you're looking for when you look at the immediate impact, meaning yards per carry and so forth, but there was some benefits and positive effects from trying to run the ball in that it helps protect our quarterback and it also allows for us to take some pressure off of our throwing game."

Neuheisel also hinted that the coaching staff would pay closer attention to the tailback position in practices this week to see if they can find the right formula to provide a spark in the running game.

"We are going to increase the competition at the tailback position to see if we cant find a ‘hot-back,' a back that can turn out some yards and give us some life in that area.

"We aren't getting it done right now. I'm not mad at anybody. I think guys are trying, but certainly we've got at least consider other options with respect to how to go about increasing productivity.

"This is a competitive world; this is competitive game and we ought to have great competition to determine who's going to get the chance."

The issue of whether or not to burn true-freshmen Kenny James' red-shirt and more playing time for Chris Singleton has been brought up in the past and was once again brought up. James and Singleton will also be closely examined during practices to see what they may be able to contribute.

"He's (James) at the position so we will continue to work with and see if there might not be a chance but Chris Singleton certainly probably deserves an opportunity and Braxton (Cleman) sees the game really well we just got to get him healthy and I'm not going to give up on Rich (Alexis). We've had some great moments with Rich. But we're going to keep working on it and hopefully find a way.

"We make decisions as to who gives us the best chance to win the game. We're going to open it up again for competition and if Chris is ready to go, when he's called up on hopefully he'll make the most of it. There's certainly no personal vendetta against Chris Singleton. He's a great kid and I'm hopeful that when he gets his chance he'll make the most of it."

With the team getting so comfortable at home the past six weeks, the issue as to whether or not they remember how to prepare for and play a big game on the road was brought up.

"I think it'll come back to us. For a great majority of the Michigan game we played well. There were some things that didn't go well but we gave ourselves a great chance to win the game, but unfortunately we squandered it. I'm hopeful that we get ourselves into a position the fourth quarter where we've got a chance to finish the job this week.

"I don't think we are different than most teams. In order to win in this conference, you have to win on the road. But those environments are difficult, especially when the margins of victory are so close. You look at this last week; Oregon is the team right now that has found a way to win on the road. We've got to go back and do that ourselves, which is what we did after we lost our first conference game in 2000"

The Huskies expect a very intense game to be brought to the table by the Trojans and that is the way Neuheisel intends to practice.

"We're going to be as intense as we can in practice. This is a fight for our lives. In this conference that's the way it is. You look at the scores. We beat Arizona 32-28. Oregon wins 31-30. USC beats Cal 31-28. ASU beats Oregon State 13-9. They all go down to the finish. That's just the way it is. You've got to fight, scratch, and find a way. You ought to practice that way."

Saturday's hero Reggie Williams showed once again why he just might be the one of the better wide receivers in the nation. After being on the receiving end of physical play from the California secondary, Williams himself went out there and returned the favor and played a little physical game of his own.

"I think Reggie is a gifted player and because he's gifted he gets a lot of notoriety and lot of conversation and certainly a lot of newsprint spent on him which is deserved. I think he come to play every time. Sometimes he's in better shape, we've had that conversation that became ‘Reggiegate.'

"The bottom line is he's a great football player, we're glad he's on our team and were going to continue to use his as he fits to help us get more wins."

One thing that is certain about the Pac-10 is that there is no question regarding talent at the quarterback position. After facing Cal's Kyle Boller and Arizona's Jason Johnson, the task certainly does not get any easier with USC's Carson Palmer.

"I think Carson Palmer is a gifted player. I think it's been well documented that I recruited him, unfortunately too well documented," said Neuheisel with a slight chuckle.

"The point of the matter is that he has had to learn two systems while he's there and in both, he got better in the second year. This is now his 2nd year in Norm Chow's (USC Offensive Coordinator) offense and obviously he's looking like he understands it and they are utilizing him well. I think he's a very, very good player. I don't have any doubts that he'll be playing on Sundays."

After being lit up for over 400 yards in the air on Saturday, Neuheisel was not too thrilled with his defense, yet had some positive things to say as well.

"The secondary h struggled. There is no question. We have to play better in our back end for us to get back and be competitive in this conference. There is no question about it. We're going to keep working until we do."

The nickel-zone defense has received much criticism in the past, but Neuheisel looks at the positive aspects of it rather than the negative ones.

"We had five sacks in zone coverage the other day," said Neuheisel. "We had our interception in zone coverage the other day. We dropped an interception in zone coverage the other day that resulted in a touchdown the other day. The bottom line is, there is some improvements there. But ultimately, it's the aggressive nature of the back end has to improve.

"We have to understand the urgency to improve because we can't afford to have that many yards thrown on us. Especially when we're doing such a nice job stopping the running game. We're really doing some good things against the running game. It'll be nice to have both together. If we find ourselves there, and if we can find ourselves with the running game, we're going to be back in this conference and we've got to do it as quickly as now."

Late game heroics are nothing new to Neuheisel and the Huskies. Though it may test the nerves of everyone involved and cause quite a scare, it is something that Neuheisel does not see as a surprise or a nuisance anymore.

"This is the Pac-10. There are going to be late game heroics. In the year 2000, we went to the Rose Bowl, finished third in the country, we had to come back twice in the fourth quarter twice against Arizona that year. We had to come from behind with 50 seconds left to beat Stanford that year. Stanford, I don't believe, was a team that had a winning record.

"That is they way it is in this conference. The parity is such that if you fight and do everything well you're going to be in the game. If they lay an egg, you might take advantage of the big score. The bottom line is, there are going to be close games. You have to understand that, manage that as well as possible and hopefully you'll win more than your share of them, which we have."


Notes:
Derrick Johnson OK: Starting Cornerback Derrick Johnson, who suffered a mild concussion will be OK and ready for Saturday's game.

TV Game: The USC-Washington game will be televised on ABC with a 12:30pm kickoff. Good ol' Keith Jackson, Dan Fouts, and Todd Harris will be doing the call.

SC Injuries of Note: Standout freshmen DT Shaun Cody and OT Jacob Rogers both injured their knees and have been labled "questionable." Safety Troy Polamalu is "probable."

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