Rick Neuheisel Press Conference 11/25/02

Less than 48 hours removed from one of the most dramatic Apple Cups in memory, Coach Rick Neuheisel and the media met at the Don James center for his weekly press conference.

"We are very elated with the victory," Coach Neuheisel started out. "It was a hard fought game with a number of plays that could've gone either way and a number of plays that both coaching staffs are shaking their heads at and so forth but that is not an unusual occurrence when you have an emotional game which is the usual happening in inner state rivalries.

"I was pleased at the grit our team showed, not only in this particular game, but throughout the last month of the season and where we were entering the month of November and I'm excited that we are going to get to continue to practice and continue to build ourselves back into the team that we want to be. I'm very thankful for our seniors, not giving up the ship, hanging in there and dealing with the adversity in the proper way and they will now get one more ball game to hopefully go out and feel very proud of what they've accomplished in the last month of the season.

"We wish Washington State well, they've had a terrific season and hopefully Jason Gesser will be well enough to play and if not, whether it be Matt Kegel or another quarterback, I think they will play a terrific game down in Los Angeles and have a chance to earn the conference title."

The last month was a remarkable turnaround for the team. Just one month ago, many people already had the Huskies left for dead and did not give them much of shot at winning two out the three northwest games, much less all three of them.

And for that, many of the people who have been questioning his coaching styles have begun to speak fondly of Neuheisel once again. However, Neuheisel does not believe that sweeping the northwest rivals automatically made this season a success.

"I'm not patting myself on the back. I am the coach of a 7-5 team that was picked to be second in the conference. We've got a ways to go. "

There is no question that the team has been playing with more confidence than it has at any point this season, and even though this season is already set in stone, this can be a springboard as the Huskies look to continue their success when the 2003 season rolls by with the younger Huskies taking the helm. "Hopefully our young players were paying close attention as to how we dealt with adversity," Neuheisel said.

"But maybe more importantly, how we started to play as a football team and play field position and win the battle of turnovers and all that kind of stuff. We weren't error free by any stretch of the imagination at the end of the season but we certainly played with a lot of grit and we did some things better then we had in the portion of the season we were struggling. And if we can keep that as a lesson in terms of how to play football, then hopefully we can get off to a better start and finish higher than we did this year next year."

The secret to the recent success the Huskies was field position. Neuheisel believes that the team has been getting better field position which increases their chances of scoring.

"There's a statistic right now that we were first in the conference in offense, first in the conference in first downs, right near the top of the conference in time of possession, we were first in terms of fewest penalties, but we were seventh in scoring."

"We've got to learn how to play a field position game."

Special teams has a great amount of impact on special teams and having a penalty on a special teams play such as a kick return can make a big difference on where the team will start their attack.

"I cringe when we get penalties on special teams," said Neuheisel. "Because what a needless mistake. It's an effort mistake, and I don't fault effort. They are trying hard, but that gives you a 10 yard loss from the spot of the foul, and that's a field position blunder. That's 20 yards of filed position. How often in a game do you get to make a 20 yard play? You gave up 20 yards by doing something like that."

There was talk in the past week that there was another reason that the Huskies made such a big turnaround, and former Husky quarterback Hugh Millen was intent on getting answer from the man in charge.

"Keith Gilbertson and Taylor Barton have recently been on record as saying that over the last few weeks, things have changed in terms of (Neuheisel) being tougher. Can you comment and elaborate?" asked Millen.

Then all of a sudden there was a flashback to last week's press conference as Neuheisel gave another one of his patented one-word answers.

"No." (chuckles from the media)

With practices being closed to the public last week, there was talk that Neuheisel was had a top-secret project in the works. That project turned out to be #19, Reggie Williams, the 6'4" defensive back.

"That isn't exactly rocket science," said Neuheisel when asked about the reasoning of the idea. "Mike Bush is 6'6". If you look at our roster and try to find a guy to match up with him, there are about two guys that come to mind and one is Reggie Williams and we stuck him in there."

Eddie Jackson, the other 6'4" wide receiver on the team also was considered for the job along with Williams. May be used again if "we play a lot of 6'6" guys," as Neuheisel suggested.

The final play of the Apple Cup is what may most likely stand out as one one of the most controversial plays in Apple Cup history. Washington State coach Mike Price stands by his belief that the wrong call was made and eventually cost the Cougars the game, Neuheisel has his own thoughts.

"I'll say this. The Cougars have had a wonderful season. And to be number three in the country and to be that close to a shot at a national title, it's difficult to see it go down the drain on a play that you're not sure if that was correct call and so forth.

"I can't tell you if I'm absolutely sure. That would be ludicrous, just as it is ludicrous for him (Price) to think he's positive in the other direction. It's the receiver that he's throwing to is behind the quarterback when the quarterback is throwing the ball. Now the ball is so tipped so quickly out of his hand to know if it was backwards or forward is a difficult call unless you're standing on the line of scrimmage, and the guy that they're paying who wears a striped shirt who makes that decision said it was a backwards pass. It's difficult even with the slow motion of the replay to determine if that's the case.

"I know Mike knows in his heart he didn't call a backwards pass, so its easy for him to think that it shouldn't have been, but Kai Ellis will have you think that he caught the ball and that it was stripped of him an he thought it was a fumble. Otherwise why would he even be trying to recover it? It probably is a difficult pill to swallow given the way the game had gone, that that's the way the game ends.

"As it was a difficult pill for me to swallow when I saw the replay when Cody fumbled the ball and they called it a double pass. His arm hadn't even got to his shoulder when the ball came out of his hand and there was no motion at all to go forward. It just came out just as it did on the goal line play when we fumbled the ball for God knows what reason on third down and goal at the two. But he got the ball and threw a touchdown pass to Kevin Ware which would have ended the game. Had we been in the NFL, the game would've been over, because they would have checked it (the replay)."

As for the man who caused that fumble/backwards pass/interception/incomplete pass, Neuheisel could not hide his absolute amazement at the day Kai Ellis had.

"He's a freak show. He played 70 somewhat plays and had over 90 production points. That's an absolute freak show. Just playing you're position and being in the right place gets you zero. That gets you in the even in Randy Hart's tale of the tape. You get negatives and pluses, he was sensational. "

Neuheisel went as far as saying that Ellis's performance at the Apple Cup was the best performance had seen by a defensive linemen in his years at Washington.

While Ellis was the defensive star, Reggie Williams proved without a doubt that he is Mr. Apple Cup. Williams had 12 catches for 169 yards. He broke his own Apple Cup record of 11 receptions, and in two career games against the Cougars, he has 23 receptions for 372 yards.

"You've got to want the ball, which he does. You've got to have technique. You've got to have the way of thought to get the ball while it is in the air. And you've got to have the God-given ability to get open from great players because I thought Marcus Trufant was really good," said Neuheisel regarding his superstar receiver's talent.

There is no question that Williams has been a key factor in the recent success. During the "Northwest Championship" run, Williams accumulated 35 receptions and, 461 yards, and four touchdowns. It is safe to say that the offense has made more of an effort to feature the product out of Tacoma, Washington.

"You've got to have a play-caller and a quarterback who's trying to feature you to be able to dominate from there and there is no question that in the last month of the season that we have been trying to feature Reggie."

Another star from the Apple Cup was John Anderson. The senior kicker and the first person player from the "Boca Roton Pipeline" was Mr. Clutch on Saturday. After missing his first three field goal attempts, Anderson came back and nailed five straight kicks, including the game winning 49 yard kick in the third overtime.

"Some went through, and some went outside," Neuheisel joked when asked about Anderson's kicks.

"I went home at the end of the game and they had the replay on and somebody at my home commented, ‘He knew it was good,' on the third overtime kick. I said, ‘John does that (lifting his hands up immediately after the kick) on EVERY kick.' It could be eight feet wide and it's as if the referees are saying, ‘Yeah he's a nice kid from Florida. Let's give it to him. But the bottom line is, he came through when we needed him, and if you think about his career, he came through every time he actually had to."

Unlike the previous week at Oregon, the festive mood and the celebration that the Huskies had going did not go peacefully. The lasting image of this classic Apple Cup will without a doubt be the aftermath debacle that immediately followed.

"Let me say this carefully, because first of all, I don't want to say anything derogatory against Washington State," Neuheisel began. "Washington State has had a magnificent season. Like I've said many times, I hope they finish strong. This is an emotional game, for the players, the coaches, and the fans obviously. And given what was riding on the game for Washington State, it was a bitter pill to swallow at the conclusion.

"A week ago we were harassed privately and publicly for celebrating at Oregon. Our kids winning an emotional game like that wanted to enjoy the moment. There were a number of fans who raced on to the field who wanted to enjoy it with us; some fans who were disappointed were also on the field. And that always lead to conflict.

"When you've got people opposite end of the spectrum emotionally in tight quarters, there is going to be conflict. Obviously no one could ever condone people throwing things, which unfortunately took place. A number of people were hit with flying objects. It really is a logistical problem there because of where you are trying to exit the stadium and trying to get to your locker room, there are just so many people that can get to you and give you what they are thinking. It just become a human nightmare from the standpoint of you just can't control it because there is no way of keeping people from getting there.

"I don't say that people went off the edge and call them classless. I don't buy that. They were hurt and disappointed."

The controversy is as how to how the entire mess began. Husky nation believes that Cougar fans were being poor sports and could not watch the Huskies celebrate on their field. Cougar nation believes that Husky players were taunting the crowd and rubbing salt in the wound. But Neuheisel knew WHY it happened.

"We all know why it happened. That's a no-brainer. They were ticked off. They lost to the Huskies again."

However Neuheisel was quick to defend his players. "It wasn't our players. Our players were out there playing. They're going through the tunnel and all of a sudden stuff gets thrown. I don't know how you say that's on the players.

As to the question whether or not the Huskies were possibly fanning the flame, Neuheisel did not see anything wrong with what the Huskies were doing.

"Like saying ‘we won?' (with hands in the air) What's wrong with that? "

I don't buy that. Of course I don't have any evidence to say that it didn't happen. I'm just saying that I don't buy it. "

But before the press conference was over, Millen had to have one more shot at getting his answer from Neuheisel and he tried to disguise his question is some different shape or form.

"If you were a fan of Washington, and players and coaches have pointed out about the turnaround, that the head coach got a little bit tougher, what would you think? I'm going to try one way or another," asked Millen

"You tried," said a laughing Neuheisel. "Goodness gracious. It isn't a lack of effort."

"I don't know what the question is," kidded Neuheisel, drawing laughs from the rest of the media.

But all joking aside, the only answer Neuheisel had for Millen was short and simple.

"I just try my best."

Apple Cup Plunge! - Coach Neuheisel and his wife took part in the Apple Cup plunge. Contrary to popular belief, Neuheisel's father did not make the plunge.

"My dad had that heart deal actually and I don't want him jumping into Lake Washington," Neuheisel said. "Mouth-to-mouth at three in the morning would be rough."

Players of the Week: John Anderson was named the Pac 10 Special Teams player of the week and Kai "Freak Show" Ellis was named the Pac 10 defensive player of the week. Anderson nailed five field goals from 35, 27, 34, 46, and 49 yards. The "Freak Show" had 8 solo tackles, 4 assists, 12 total, 5 for loss, 3 fumbles caused, 2 recovered, and 2 sacks and obviously the defining moment at the end of the game. He was sensational.

The Neuheisel Awards: Coach Neuheisel said if he had to name the best player he has seen this year, it would be USC quarterback Carson Palmer. As for the coach of the year, "Hmm… a number of guys. Mike Price has done a great job. Jeff Tedford has done a great job. Certainly Pete Carroll has done a great job. I think Dirk Koetter has done a great job. Give them each a quarter vote."

E.T. update: There was concern that Charles Frederick might have suffered a stress fracture, but that was not the case. There was also concern that Cody Pickett may have banged up his shoulder when he took a hit, but all is well. John Anderson said he also hurt his plant foot on the play he got roughed. But Neuheisel laughed it off and said. "a kicker's definition of hurt is different."

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