11/04 Neuheisel Press Conference

With a non-winning season and the thought of having a bowl-less season another step closer to reality, Washington head coach Rick Neuheisel met with the press to answer questions and try to shed some light on the state of the program.

"Well we find ourselves in a place where I don't think we envisioned ourselves to be but there are many things still left to play for and for that reason I expect a great effort out of our football team," Neuheisel started out..

"I know our coaching staff is looking forward to putting together a great plan for a very, very talented Oregon State team that is kind of finding itself right now. In the last two weeks they have played very, very well, especially on defense and while there are going to be those that will imagine that we're going to come apart, I don't think that will be the case. I think our guys are going to fight, and I think we had great effort on Saturday night. We just had too many mistakes to be victorious, and so we've got to do a great job of coaching this week so that we can try to eliminate those mistakes, still get the great effort, and hopefully find a way to get a win.

"A win would give us a fifth win for the season, and before we embark on our last road trip with two games left, it would give us a win over a Northwest opponent, a great sendoff to seniors playing in their last Husky home game, and all are things that are hopefully motivators for our squad as well as just finding a way to get a win when you're suffering defeat as we have for each of the last three weeks. There is only one way to get that taste out of your mouth and that is to come out and play a great football games.

"Hopefully we'll get a great crowd. I was really pleased with the way crowd got behind our football team in the fourth quarter in the game against UCLA and we're just sorry we couldn't award them with a victory. But we're looking forward to the Oregon State game and hopefully we'll get a big and much needed win."

All things aside, the Huskies have shown improvement in the most questionable areas. In the games against Arizona State and UCLA, the running game and the secondary have shown sparks of life that gives some hope after all. The Huskies are more than likely to look at these positive points as a way to keep hope that the season is still salvageable.

"Well all of your experience helps create who you are and certainly the disappointment that we're suffering right now if we continue to work, and continue to invest, and continue to do things that all football teams need to do to be successful, then there will be benefits," Neuheisel said of the improvements.

However improvements do not necessarily equal an automatic victory and a complete turn around of the season. The time frame as to when all the improvements will lead to satisfaction in progress is now the big question.

"Whether it will be in the near future or the long future remains to be seen but there will definitely be benefits. You get things from what you put in and hopefully we've got a bunch of people that are still very vested in this program and I believe that to be the case as evidenced by the effort on Saturday night and I just see us continuing to fight all the way through the end of this what's been a disappointing year," he said.

One thing that does not help Washington's chances of improvement in the near future is their schedule. It is bad enough that two out of the three games remaining are away from home, but against Northwest rivals that Washington has historically dominated.

They find themselves in an unfamiliar situation where the other three Northwest schools will be more eager than ever to rub salt in the wound and Neuheisel is well aware of the situation.

"It'll be a big part of the deal," said Neuheisel of the Northwest rivalries. "At this point, it doesn't make much difference who we play, as it is as important as to try to gain victory.

"But obviously there are great traditional rivalries in each of the last three weeks; games that have a lot of geographic significance with respect to fan base and people knowing people from each of the different regions and so forth. And given the history of these rivalries, each of the next three opponents will be taking their best shot to knock us into oblivion. So it will take a tremendous amount of effort and tremendous amount of pride and will power for us to stand up and not just go toe-to toe, but find ways to win.

"We've got three weeks left in our season and obviously a great motivator in that Washington hasn't had a losing season in a number of years. We'd like to keep that streak alive and to do that we've got to win two of the last three but were trying to take them one at a time and so we've got a tall order in this week in play a very, very tough team in Oregon State, maybe the best defense in the conference and we've got to get after them the best as we can."

Oregon State comes into Saturday's game with defense being their strength. The Beavers are ranked eighth in the nation in interceptions, ninth in pass efficiency defense, tenth in rushing defense, and twelfth in total defense.

The last two weeks have seen the once dominating UW passing game become a mystery. While Pickett is still racking up major yardage and getting the ball into the receivers' hands, the ball has also been getting into the opposing secondary's hands, as evidenced by the four picks thrown against UCLA.

"Unfortunately it's been too heavily relied upon because of our inability to be consistent in the running game," said Neuheisel.

With the Huskies running game still a dismal ninth in the conference, it seems as if more and more teams are finding ways to break down the only offensive force the Huskies have left, which causes the team to find themselves in the hole more often than not.

"We kind of find ourselves seven or ten points behind almost on a weekly basis," he said. "That kind of gives you the feeling that you've got to kind of get yourself back in and we did. We fought our way back into the ball game and had a chance to tie it in the fourth quarter or go ahead and unfortunately did not get that accomplished. The problem in the throwing game right now is one, we've got to protect better and make sure we do a better job at giving our quarterback more time to get the ball out, and then we've got to make great decisions when we do throw it and not throw it to the opposing team."

Neuheisel also cites the lack of a good field position as a reason why the Huskies have a hard time getting an offensive momentum building.

"If there is one thing that has killed us, it's the field position of the ball games," he said. "Our average starting place on Saturday night was our own 20-23 yard line, our opponents have been starting somewhere around the 40 yard line and that's been the case in each of the last two."

The defense has also shown signs of life and would most likely stop opposing drives dead in their tracks if the opposing offensive only needed 40-50 yards to work with.

"Our defense, when you look at the numbers, hasn't played poorly. It's actually been pretty good, but the bottom line is we've given up too many chunks of yardage with respect to field position so while we're massing great yardage totals, we're not getting the benefit of points because we are sputtering out when we get close. It's been a difficult year in that regard and special teams are having an impact on the field position as well."

Punter Derek McLaughlin has had an inconsistent season at best and it was pretty clear the punting game is in danger as evidenced by McLaughlin's poor performance on Saturday night, which included an unheard of four-yard punt.

"We're not producing in the special teams department," Neuheisel said. "Our punter hasn't performed well, and our kick coverage teams gave up some yards the other night and those are things earlier in the year we were doing pretty well and unfortunately of late, it has become problematic so we've got to really address that this week and see if we can play a great field position game."

This all led to Neuheisel's decision to open up competition during practice for the punting duties in which placekicker John Anderson will get a long look.

"I'm going to give him an opportunity to win that job this week."

While the punting job is up for grabs, it seemed more than likely the tailback competition was won by sophomore Chris Singleton. The Etiwanda, California native rushed for 92 yards on 20 carries and gave hope to everyone in search of a running game to balance the attack.

"Chris Singleton will start this week, and Braxton (Cleman) banged his knee a little bit in the game and I'm not sure what his availability will be but I hope Rich Alexis will return," Neuheisel said.

The importance of taking the ball away from the opposing offense is another thing that Neuheisel sees a need to improve on.

"We're woeful in the turnover department," said the coach. "And that's another thing that contributes to the field position. They fumbled the other night and it goes right back to them. It's been one of those years and you can't sit there and say, ‘Well its just bad luck.' You got to keep working at it and keep trying to create more turnovers and hopefully this will be the week."

The secondary suffered another season ending injury on Saturday. After losing starting cornerback Roc Alexander, safety Jimmy Newell went down with a knee injury.

"Jimmy is probably lost for the season," he said. "It's unfortunate and we'll find out if it's a torn or a grade-two PCL injury, which is a ligament in the knee and hopefully he'll be back for spring practice and be full speed by the fall. Like all the other injuries in the secondary, it has an effect. We have to move other people into position. Right now we have Evan Benjamin, who played pretty well other than a couple of plays, and James Sims and hopefully we can get Greg Carothers back at the safety position."

Neuheisel gave much praise to Benjamin and his young secondary for their play on Saturday.

"I thought he (Benjamin) did a nice job of stepping up into the box and making some great tackles," he said. "There were a couple of plays early in the game where he missed some opportunities to make a tackle. First play of the game, he got blocked by the official. He backed right up into him and resulted in a 22 yard run. But the bottom line is, he's learning as a freshman and for most of the game against UCLA, we played three freshmen and a sophomore in the back end and I thought they played pretty admirably given the inexperience."

With so much pressure on the coaching staff to turn the program around, one can only imagine as to what it is like being Rick Neuheisel. The coach shed some light as to what he has been feeling these days.

"I think I said this a couple weeks before but no one puts more pressure on me than myself," he said. "Because of that, it's difficult when things aren't going well because you keep searching for the answers and you keep looking for the right thing to say, or the right personnel move, or the right scheme that's going to unlock all the misery and let it all go away. Usually it isn't one thing. It's a combination of things and it takes a little more than one week of preparation to get it all fixed.

"I thought we had tremendous effort on Saturday night. We were in position to win what would have been a great win for the program. But it didn't happen and so now we have to reinvest again this week and I look forward to doing that.

"But in terms of the ‘big picture', I was asked yesterday by one of the writers, they saw my children and my wife in the press conference room following the game and how is it for them and is there a black cloud hanging over our home and following the kids to school and so forth. It's not like that, nor can it be. This is important stuff. This is what I do and certainly I've been entrusted to carry a program and to make people proud of the program from a variety of standpoints but namely winning. While that's all difficult, you can't lose sight. The sun is going to come up another day. The kids are still trying and coaches are still giving everything that they've got and as I said to the writer who asked, I'm still one of the luckiest people in the world.

"Even though it looks as if it's a miserable existence, bottom line is, it's a tremendous challenge, and that's way you have to look at it. I will never look at it as though I am a failure. I'm not going to do that. I'm doing everything that I can to work and get this thing going in the right direction and we'll continue to do so as long as I'm given the opportunity. I'm going to continue to be optimistic. I'm going to continue to believe in the kids and the coaches that I have until I see fit to change in any of those regards.

"Bottom line is, I've got a great opportunity this week to try to hopefully right the ship and we're going to try as hard as we can to do that.

It's been becoming somewhat of a routine for Neuheisel the past few weeks. Play a game Saturday; spend Sunday reflecting on what went wrong; and coming in Monday to answer what went wrong to the media.

"It's kind of an occupational hazard I guess," he said. "If a banker has a bad day there usually isn't a bunch of people asking him why. But in the world that I live in, there are going to be constant people and constant questions as to why and frankly everybody who gets into it understands it. So I don't hold any animosity for it.

"You do the best you can, but I refuse to lose my optimism. I refuse to lose my feel for good things that can happen if we work and put the elbow grease necessary toward the desired end. We'll get there. Maybe not as quickly as people would hope and might demand, but bottom line is everybody comes to work. No one closes their door and cries tears of self pity.

"It isn't a situation that calls for doom and despair."

As to the many questions such as if the team has given up or questions regard the team's ability and effort, Neuheisel got on his soap box.

"I haven't had one person and come up to me and tell me ‘Your team quit,' and say, ‘You're not playing hard,'" said Neuheisel. "I've had people come up and say ‘You didn't punt very well' or ‘You dropped some balls' and ‘You can't run the ball,' and so forth. But those things statistics can point to.

"No one has said we haven't played hard. You look at every game and our guys have fought to the bitter end. While in the world you live in there are no concessions, it's either did you or didn't you, you're not going to talk about that and that's OK. But from where I sit, that may be the most important thing. We've got kids that continue to believe, to fight, to try and continue to trust one another and ultimately, if you don't have that, you have no chance. Because we have that, we had ample chance against UCLA and it just didn't turn out."

It can be seen that Neuheisel takes some offense when questions rise over the lack of effort.

"The last thing I hate is to feel that I'm being defensive," Neuheisel explained. "I really do not want to be defensive because I understand your side of the fence. I totally do. You have stories to write, editorials to publish. There are going to be public demand cries for the viewpoint of what needs to be change and should he stay or should he go and all I that kind of stuff.

"But when it comes to the program and are the kids doing what they are asked to do and are they trying, then I do get a little defensive because I do believe in my heart of hearts that they do what we ask, they try as hard as they can. Does it always work perfectly? No. It doesn't and we are suffering the consequences because it isn't working perfectly.

"But there is no fault in effort."

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