12/19/2002 Sun Bowl Press Conference

It had been nearly four weeks since Rick Neuheisel and the Washington Huskies upset the then #3 Washington State Cougars to finish the season with the "Northwest Championship" and a 7-5 record. Twelve days remain before the Huskies hit the field again against a familiar bowl opponent Purdue in the Wells Fargo Sun Bowl New Year's Eve. Neuheisel addressed the media today to discuss the game as well as some other recent, relevant happenings.

"Having finished the season in the style that we did and the magnitude of those victories for out team, we are eager to play again. We have practiced well, not so much in game planning with guys being on the road recruiting and so forth we haven't had a lot of time to do that, that's beginning now. I think our focus is going to be where it needs to be and I think we'll play well," began the head man.

A berth in the Sun Bowl seemed unlikely to anyone surrounding the Husky football program in early November. But after rattling off three wins to close the season, the Huskies positioned themselves to face a team that many will remember from the 2001 Rose Bowl.

"I was 4-5 the first week of November, so I'm thrilled to be in any bowl. The fact that we're playing a great program like Purdue is exciting," Neuheisel said. "I think the people that tune in on the 31st will be treated to a great, great football game."

Though the uniforms maybe similar, the teams taking the field in 2002 are stark contrast to the teams that faced off in the Granddaddy. "They have a real ability to grind out rushing yards. It's no accident that they're the number one offense in the Big Ten, given the way they were able to churn out rushing yards at over 200 yards a game. I'm envious. We did not reach anywhere close to what we envisioned for ourselves in the running game. It's a big challenge for our defense.

"Fortunately our defense all year has been pretty stout against the run. I think we finished fourth in the Pac-10, but the numbers were very close to the one, two, and three. We were under a hundred yards in allowing run offense so it should be a great matchup," commented Neuheisel on the Boilermakers.

Purdue head coach Joe Tiller has played two quarterbacks much of the season and Neuheisel expects that to continue. "I think they'll both play," he said. "The younger quarterback is more prone to run. I think we'll see a lot more of the empty stuff with him. QB draw and so forth. We have to be prepared for all of it and the wrinkles that will no doubt come."

The Huskies have moved toward an air attack centered around Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams, quite the contradiction from the 2000 Husky team which ran for over 300 yards on many occasions. "I think there was, maybe in my heart of hearts mistakenly, a movement to throw the ball just because we thought we could," Neuheisel said. "In the early part of our schedule when maybe had some personnel advantages we spent a lot of time doing that instead of really trying to improve ourselves in other facets of offensive play.

"We've also had a number of injuries in our offensive line and some injuries to our tailback position. So that kept us from being the consistent running team that we wanted to be, but that is going to be a real focus not only preparing for the Sun Bowl but looking at the 2003 season."

Husky coaches are looking at the Sun Bowl as a reward to the players who turned a downtrodden season around. "The people in El Paso will make this a great bowl. They'll make it a wonderful experience for our players and everyone who is travelling," Neuheisel began. "The goal of every bowl experience is to number one try and find a way to win the game, and number two, very close to number one, is to make sure it is a memorable and rewarding experience for your student athletes.

"We've done a decent job of that over the last several years, both before and since I've been at Washington. Last year we let victory escape us in a great game against Texas. We've got to make sure that we play better football so that if we have the opportunity to win the game we can hang on to it. I know Purdue feels much the same. Purdue is coming off a great ending to their season. They're excited about participating in the post season. That is why I think it will be a whale of a game. I think CBS will be very excited about the contest that will be on December 31st," he continued.

All that surrounds a bowl may lead some players to forget that there is a game to be won, but Neuheisel and his staff doesn't intend to allow that to happen. "It's just communication. There is no player on our team that has ever not wanted to win the game. So they have to understand that what work has to be done to get that done. It can't be just survival work where we just go out and go through the motions. It has to be passionate work. Painstakingly detailed so that we're the team that plays closer to error free.

"You'd love to be error free, but it is a hard thing to obtain. We're going to be as disciplined and organized and passionate about our practices as we can be. Then we're going to make time for rest and relaxation. You've got to want to play. Football is not a game for the feint hearted. You've got to want to play, and I think both teams are going to show up wanting to play," said Neuheisel.

The Sun Bowl will remain on the minds of Husky fans, but other news has shaken things up in the Pac-10 and in the Washington coaching staff. Secondary coach Bobby Hauck has been named the new head coach at the University of Montana. While Hauck will remain to coach the bowl, he is in Montana today to meet with his new team.

Elsewhere, two new head coaches will have their rookie seasons in the Pac-10 in 2003. Former Bruin receiver Karl Dorrell will be the new head coach at UCLA, while former Cougar defensive coordinator Bill Doba will take over at Washington State for Mike Price. "I'm excited for Bobby and I'm excited for Karl Dorrell," Neuheisel said. "Karl and I have been close friends for a number of years. I think it is really neat that those guys are getting those opportunities.

"Bobby will leave this afternoon. Montana is sending over a jet, he's gone big time flying in jets now. Bobby is going over to meet with his team - It's a neat thing to say, his team – and tomorrow there will be a press conference then he'll get back here. He will coach in our bowl. He'll be with us, I don't think he'll miss any other things. It will be fun to see him juggling a couple different hats. He's excited about finishing his career at Washington. It's a wonderful thing for him. I think Montana made a great choice as I do UCLA.

"I'm happy for Mike (Price) too. I say that because I know that he weighed everything in making that decision. I know that he wouldn't have left what has been a program very near and dear to his heart if it had not been the exact right thing to do. You take your hat off to him and congratulate him for all the success he enjoyed in his time at Washington State.

"You congratulate Bill Doba on getting that opportunity and wish him well, then you go out and you recruit like mad. That's what you do. That's what both of them will do. That's our business," he continued.

The landscape may be changing in the Pac-10, but Neuheisel is focused on what he is doing at Washington. Neuheisel received a letter of intent from Jon Lyon recently. Lyon is a five star junior college tight end who should be able to fill a gap at Washington. "Jonathan Lyon is an outstanding tight end prospect," Neuheisel said. "I'm really excited that he's joined our program. I think he brings a lot to the table. We kinda missed a tight end in our depth progression with Jerramy (Stevens) going out early and Kevin (Ware) not redshirting. All of our tight ends are in the freshman/sophomore deal. To have a guy coming in as a Junior gives us some experience.

"Having him here for spring ball is a real boon. I think he reminds me of Jay Novacek. He's that kind of receiver with the ability to move around and he also likes the dirty work in terms of blocking. I think he's going to be a great fit for us." commented Neuheisel on his newest Husky.

Next week brings the beginning of the recruiting quiet period. With recruiting not at their immediate attention will the Husky coaches be scheming some new plays? Neuheisel believes that they have to. "I think coaches are by nature like mechanics in the auto business," he said. "We're always going to tinker. You can have a car that breaks the world record, but you're going to go in there and try to make it go faster. Offensive coaches and defensive coaches are much the same, we're always going to tinker. I don't think you'll have a tough time recognizing which team is which on gameday, but we'll have some wrinkles and so will Purdue."

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