Rick Neuheisel 11/18 press conference

For those that believe brevity is the soul of wit, Rick Neuheisel turned in a truly comedic performance today at the James Center, eschewing his normal coach-speak for more terse, to-the-point responses.

When asked if there was a reason he set a PR for one-word answers this afternoon, his answer? 'No.' Later he added a two-word follow-up for good measure. "I'm learning." While everyone else got the joke, he wasn't kidding. It's Apple Cup week, and the Head Coach already had his game face on.

"We're 6-5," he continued. "I think we've already learned what can happen if you don't play well. Bottom line, we've got to play a great game. It's a big game and we're looking forward to it."

But Neuheisel's best responses came short and sweet. What do you attribute you're ability to run the ball against Oregon? "We blocked better," he said. What about Jason Gesser as a player? "He's a good player." Marcus Trufant? "He's a good player." Mike Price? "He's obviously a great coach." And an injury update? "Everybody's fine."

You get the idea. Actually he did give Price his props. "Give credit where credit is due," Neuheisel said. "Mike (Price) was Pac-10 Coach of the Year last year. I have a very healthy respect for Mike. He's a great coach and has done a great job at WSU."

It became painfully clear the moment the first questions were vollied that Neuheisel meant business. If the Cougars are looking for bulletin board fuel after this press conference, they'll be running on fumes the whole week. But Neuheisel did address some topics, including the talk surrounding Washington's 20-minute post game celebration on the field at Autzen Stadium after their 42-14 win.

"First of all, we're not the first team to celebrate a victory," he said. "I think that goes with the territory. I don't understand all the commotion about a celebration after a win, especially in a rivalry game. Secondly, when you've struggled and you've had to dig deep to become a better football team...to enjoy the fruits of your labor isn't an abnormal thing."

So what's happened in the last two weeks? What has enabled the Huskies to suddenly look like a team that might make life difficult for a top-3 team this Saturday, the same team that looked like they were headed for a possible 4-8 finish just 14 days ago?

"We were 4-5 two weeks ago and we're 6-5 now. We're playing better. We've just kept working at it," Neuheisel said. "I don't think it was a secret as to what our problems were. We just kept working. We're not there yet. We're 6-5. But we have a chance to finish our goal we set for ourselves after the UCLA game, which is to win the Northwest championship, and we have an opportunity to do that. We've played better field position football. We've kind of figured it out. We've punted the ball well...we've limited turnovers, critical turnovers...played good pass defense. We even mustered up some running game. And when you can do all of those things you're usually a pretty good football team."

"It's kind of what we're left with. It's an important game because it's the Apple Cup. The state gets excited about it and we're going to play our best. It's a big game, but they are all big games. When you're in them you bear down and work to play your best. I know that's what's happening in Pullman and we're certainly going to do our part to do our best too.

There's no question that Cody Pickett has stepped his game up dramatically after the home loss to the UCLA Bruins. Neuheisel believes Cody showed his true abilities as a leader at the time when a leader needed to bring the Dawgs out of their funk. "I certainly thought we had a good player," Neuheisel said. "You never envision what numbers that means. You just hope that he's the kind of guy that can be a leader and can be the kind of guy that can pull out a drive when you need it the most. Those are the intangibles you look for at the quarterback positions. He's suffered the slings and arrows that accompany the position, because when you don't do well you are subject to criticism.

"Maybe at it's low point, after the UCLA game, he responded the way you need guys to respond in that situation. He came back and played really good football. It's a great lesson that you cannot get too high or the converse of that, too low. When you get skinned up a little bit you find out how this all works and hopefully he'll be back next year and hopefully we'll have a better year.

"He did a nice job in terms of seeing what Oregon did. Oregon didn't blitz an incredible amount, but when they did Cody was where he needed to be and put the ball where he needed to put it. Obviously when you can throw the ball a short distance and have big plays turn out of it, it makes it fun as an offensive coach. Cody played within himself the last two weeks and played within himself. We have not gone backwards. That's a key. We're playing better football. Simple."

Of course, it doesn't hurt Pickett that he has super soph Reggie Williams to throw to. Williams has shown why his name should have been on the list of finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given out annually to the nation's best collegiate receiver. Neuheisel stressed the importance of having Reggie out there, as much for being a decoy as anything else.

"He's a very talented player," the Head Coach said. "You can obviously see the impact he can have on a game when he gets into the rhythm of the offense, and I think our offensive coaches have done a nice job of getting him included in it, and he's becomes something defenses have to concern themselves with. It also provides great opportunity for our other wide receivers. Reggie is going to get the lion's share of the attention, but the truth of the matter is that there were some huge plays made by Paul Arnold and Charles Frederick, especially on third down. Pat Reddick had a nice game for us. We've got a nice group of receivers."

He singled out the two senior receivers, Paul Arnold and Wilbur Hooks, for their outstanding effort. "Paul Arnold was one of my first recruits, obviously a huge name at the time and I think that Paul's been a fantastic team member throughout his career. He's had some great games. I know he would have probably liked to have had bigger numbers when it's all said his done, but the truth of the matter is that he's never blinked one time. He tries his best and does whatever you ask of him. I'm going to always consider him a great Husky.

"And Wilbur, the Gordy Lockbaum of our program, did fine. I wouldn't be shocked to see more two-way players but it's difficult. Defensive coaches are wanting to grab him on the sidelines to make adjustments, but he also has to be ready to spell Reggie too."

With Hooks graduated, he's been able to eat, sleep and drink football this year, something the coaches are grateful for. "He's a fifth-year player and he's graduated, so he and Greg Carothers could spend hours going over stuff because the rule doesn't allow the coaching staff to go over it with him. He had the availability to prepare, given the amount of time he had to do so."

Neuheisel also talked about senior linebacker Ben Mahdavi and his contributions to the program. "His story about coming back as a walk-on and earning a scholarship as a special-teams guy, becoming an MVP of our defense and being a captain as a senior...that's a great story," he said. "And it's kind of what Washington football is built on. Kids that grow up in the state of Washington, dream about playing here, make it happen and do good things while they are doing it."

Seeing senior lineman Elliot Zajac hand Neuheisel the game ball after the Oregon win, especially juxtaposed with the rumors swirling during the game-week preparations for Oregon State, appeared to be a symbolic mending of the fences between those players that were recruited by former Washington Head Coach Jim Lambright and Neuheisel's players. Neuheisel isn't buying the symbolism.

"I've never thought of it that way. I've been grateful for their efforts since I arrived here. I never thought of it as my guys versus Jim's guys. I worked hard to make sure everybody understood that Jim was, and still is, a valuable member of the Husky family. I didn't want there to be a division in the ranks as to who was with me and who was with the former regime. It's about the University of Washington and I'm just happy to be a part of it," Neuheisel said.

One of his own guys, Nate Robinson, has shown glimpses of greatness for a true freshman. "He's got some swagger to him but he's also got some immaturity to him as well, which is what you would expect from a player that hasn't even taken his first mid-term yet," Neuheisel said. "He's a great young player that's going to get nothing but better."

When asked about redshirting the entire 2002 recruiting class (except for Robinson), Neuheisel concedes that it's too late to unring that bell. But he still feels it will pay dividends down the roads, not only for depth but also for the opportunity it affords walk-ons to make their mark. "Time will tell," he said. "I'm not going to beat myself up for the decision I made because I thought it was a good decision. I don't have a crystal ball to determine injuries and the like. Ultimately there's probably a few that need to be in there for special teams, or we have to get our walk-on numbers up. We've had some great performances by some walk-ons. Eric Roy has some great things. BJ Newberry has done some good things for us. These kids play without scholarships and they are in there on special teams and are doing a wonderful job.

When it comes to prepping for the Cougars, Neuheisel intimated that it'll be more of the same - meaning more blown speakers and more hard work. "Maybe we can go out and get an ice machine," he quipped. "The weather is supposed to be nice. It was cold the last time we played, but I don't think it impacted play. It's going to be noisy. They have a lot on the line."

Deja Vu for DJ: Derrick Johnson was picked Pac-10 Defensive POW for the second week in a row. He earned the honors after picking off two passes for the second straight week. He also had three passes defended against Oregon. "He's gotten healthy," Neuheisel said of the sophomore from Riverside, California. "I've always thought he was a good player. He's obviously playing better, no question."

Mission confirmed: Neuheisel confirmed that Derek McLaughlin will be leaving for his mission, sometime in January. It looks like McLaughlin's destination will be somewhere in South America. "We've recruited a lot of LDS kids, but we don't get a lot of them," Neuheisel said. "There's other schools that are more used to the routine of coming and going, coming and going."

Dawgman.com Top Stories