Rose Bowl Repeat? Hardly

Think that a second-tier bowl like Tuesday's Sun Bowl in El Paso holds little meaning for the two combatants? Think again. Leave it to <!--Default NodeId For Purdue is 414,2005--><A HREF=>Purdue</A> head coach Joe Tiller to fire an innocuous first salvo.

Washington (7-5, 4-4 Pac-10) vs Purdue (6-6, 4-4 Big Ten)
Tuesday, December 31 - 11:15 (PDT) - CBS TV
Sun Bowl Stadium - El Paso, TX
Series All-time: Washington leads, 7-1-1.
Last meeting: January 1, 2001 (Rose Bowl) - Washington 34, Purdue 24.

Joe Tiller
(Getty Images)
Remembering his Washington State roots as Mike Price's offensive coordinator for two seasons (1989-1990), Tiller began his summary of the Washington offense by noting, "talking to our friends in Washington - which are not in Seattle, but in Pullman . . ."

Said Washington coach Rick Neuheisel at the same press conference, "I think both teams ended the season pretty hot. We played so much better our last three games by playing within ourselves. Husky expectations are always high, so it was very pleasing to knock off our three Northwest rivals."

Rick Neuheisel
(AP/Kevin German)
"I think both teams are going to get off the plane in El Paso anxious to play one more time. Certainly we are. It should make for a very exciting game on New Year's Eve."

A lot has changed in the nearly 24 months since the two teams last met in Pasadena. Purdue came into that 2001 clash wearing the gunslinger hat, riding the arm of Drew Brees, while Washington sought balance behind the guile of Marques Tuiasosopo. This year it is the Huskies who took flight, sporting the record-shattering combination of Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams. And it is the Boilermakers who achieved balance, averaging over 200 yards both on the ground and through the air.

"I think one of the greatest things about college football is that you are always in a mode of change," said Tiller about the about-face of both teams. "We're running the football better than we did two years ago, and Washington certainly throws it better.

"I think we have two teams playing their best football of the season coming into El Paso. I know from Purdue's perspective, we're looking forward to getting there."

You know the Husky story. Given up for dead at 4-5, they reeled off three straight over their Northwest rivals to blow back into the bowl scene. Pride restored, Washington will look to end a most topsy-turvy season on the topsy. What a springboard to 2003 a four-game winning streak will provide to a young team that found themselves just when all seemed lost.

And Purdue comes into the game winners of three out of their last four. Their six losses were by a combined 26 points, including a 24-17 loss to Notre Dame in which they gave up zero offensive touchdowns, and a four-point heartbreak late to second-ranked Ohio State. Clearly, the Boilermakers are the epitome of the clich, "best .500 team in the country". And they certainly won't want to end their season "the best below-.500 team in the country".

Both teams will return at least sixteen starters next year. It's a match-up fraught with intrigue.

Then there are the differences in venue. Certainly, El Paso is a far cry from Pasadena, both in prestige and in bowl importance. Whereas the Rose Bowl can easily accommodate both teams separately in their various pre-game functions, the Sun Bowl relishes the opportunity to bring both teams together.

"People have talked a lot about this year's Sun Bowl being a rematch of the Rose Bowl from two years ago, and it has got me to thinking about the two bowls," Tiller said. "One of the biggest differences is the interaction between the two teams. At the Rose Bowl, you hardly see your opponent. Here, there are several outings where the teams are together.

"But that pretty much sums up the Sun Bowl, which is known for its hospitality."

Neuheisel agrees. "I had the El Paso experience back in 1991 with UCLA, and had an outstanding time. I don't think there is a bowl in the country that does a better job with hospitality. Our kids will certainly enjoy all that El Paso has to offer."

No doubt, for either team, it will be enjoyed to the fullest with a victory.

TEAM STATS:  29.3 points (3rd Big Ten),
             456.6 yards (1st, 203.2 rush, 253.4 pass) 

RUSHING:     Joey Harris 227-1022-7 TD (4.5), long 55 
             Brandon Jones 118-640-3 TD (5.4), long 50
             Jerod Void 45-156-10 TD (3.5), long 23
PASSING:     Kyle Orton 167-280-9 (.596), 1974 yards, 11 TD
             Brandon Kirsch 79-134-5 (.590), 1067 yards, 8 TD
RECEIVING:   Taylor Stubblefield 70-697-0 TD (10.0), long 24
             John Standeford 65-1202-12 TD (18.5), long 74
             Anthony Chambers 27-224-2 TD (8.3), long 33

QB Kyle Orton
(Getty Images)
A 59-percent completion rate with over 3,000 yards passing and 19 touchdowns. Add to that nearly 700 yards rushing and three scores. Those are pretty heady numbers for Purdue's two-headed QB combination of sophomore Kyle Orton (6-4, 215) and true freshman Brandon Kirsch (6-3, 203). On paper, Orton is the thrower (1,974 yards) while Kirsch is the runner (640 net yards). It will be a game-time decision as to who will start. "That is just Coach Tiller," says Orton on Purdue's QB shuffle. "I won't say I'm used to the situation, but I'm accepting it a little bit more." The pair also combined for 14 interceptions.

Purdue offensive coordinator Jim Chaney concedes that during Brees' reign as the Boilermaker QB, he may have forsaken the running attack somewhat (sound familiar this year, Husky fans?). However, he became more mindful of the ground game upon Brees' graduation. And for the first time since Mike Alstott in 1995, the Boilermakers have a 1,000-yard rusher in junior Joey Harris (5-11, 212). Harris, who played no football in 2000, had five 100-yard games, including 144 yards in the season opener against Illinois State and 109 yards against Notre Dame. RS-freshman Brandon Jones (5-11, 220) is no slouch either, averaging over five yards a carry. Jones had three 100-yard efforts, including a season-best 165 against Northwestern - a game in which Harris ran for 132 as the Boilers rushed for a season-best 407 total yards.

WR John Standeford
(Getty Images)
It's a tale of two receivers for Purdue - junior deep threat John Standeford (6-4, 202) and Yakima sophomore Taylor Stubblefield (6-1, 172), who combined for more than half of the Boilermaker receptions this year. Standeford, a fourth-team all-American and Purdue's Most Valuable Player as voted by his team, averaged 18.5 yards per catch while hauling in 12 for scores. Standeford's best day was a six-catch, 191-yard effort against Wake Forest; while Stubblefield - who caught 70 passes despite missing the first three games due to his recovery from a skull fracture suffered in a summer pool accident - had his best day when he snagged 13 balls for 149 yards in Purdue's 31-28 loss to fifth-ranked Iowa. Amazingly, Stubblefield has yet to score a touchdown this year, though he does have a two-point conversion. However, the Yakima native did score twice in last year's Sun Bowl while catching nine passes for a career-best 196 yards against the Cougars.

Only two seniors start on an offensive line that yielded only 20 sacks all year. RS-freshman Matt Turner (6-3, 279) starts at center for senior co-captain Gene Mruczkowski, who until suffering a torn ACL in the season-ender against Indiana had started an astonishing 48 straight games. Senior tackle Pete Lougheed (6-5, 299) made a successful transition from tight end two years ago and is a mainstay on the left side. Senior guard Rob Turner (6-4, 299) pulled a Bob Sapp and scored an offensive touchdown by recovering a fumble in the end zone against Western Michigan. Turner missed half of the 2001 season with a broken leg, but returned in last year's Sun Bowl against Washington State.
GAME OUTLOOK: While leading the Big Ten in total offense, the Boilermakers also led the conference in time-of-possession, first downs, and third-down conversions. They also topped the league with 33 turnovers - with four losses coming as a direct result of miscues. Washington became a turnover-causing machine during their three-game march to the Sun Bowl, and it would serve them well to do it again here if they are to stymie Purdue's multi-faceted ball-control attack.

TEAM STATS:     22.0 points (5th Big Ten),
                317.2 yards (T-1st, 122.2 rush, 195.1 pass) 

TACKLES/TFL:    Niko Koutouvides 117/10.5
                Landon Johnson 82/5.5
                Stuart Schweigert 79/5.0    

PASSES DEF/INT: Antwaun Rogers 13/2
                Jacques Reeves 9/3
                Niko Koutouvides 9/2 
SACKS:          Kevin Nesfield 5.5
                Shaun Phillips 5.0
                Craig Terrill, Niko Koutouvides 4.0 each

Perhaps as impressive as the Boilermaker offensive numbers are, the defense has been every bit as good. Consider that Purdue offense gave up five defensive TDs (three to Notre Dame and two to Michigan State) and their special teams coughed up two more (both to Iowa). Without those, the Boilermakers move up to third in the conference in scoring defense, to go along with their league-best (along with Ohio State) yardage defense.

It's a young bunch, with only two senior starters. Junior bookends Shaun Phillips (6-3, 267) and Kevin Nesfield (6-3, 255) will bring the heat from the outside, combining for 10.5 sacks on the season. Junior tackle Craig Terrill (6-3, 295) is depended on to squash the middle, along with senior Brandon Johnson (6-0, 292). Terrill, an all-conference honorable mention selection, also has four sacks.

LB Niko Koutouvides
(Getty Images)
Junior linebacker Niko Koutouvides (6-3, 238) had an outstanding season, ranking fifth in the Big Ten in total tackles and third in unassisted stops. Koutouvides, a first-team all-Big Ten selection by the conference media panel, also found time to intercept a pair of passes and claim four QB scalps. Senior Joe Odom (6-2, 243) moved to the strong side from the middle this year, and will be making his 34th Boilermaker start. Odom has 230 tackles and four interceptions in his career. Junior co-captain Landon Johnson (6-2, 225) ranks second on the team in tackles, and was an honorable mention all-Big Ten selection.

Junior safety Stuart Schweigert (6-3, 215) was a Rose Bowl starter against Washington as a freshman, and barring injury will be a starter all four of his eligible years. Schweigert, a second-team all-conference pick, had four pass breakups and a fumble recovery to go with his two interceptions and 79 tackles. Sophomore corner Antwaun Rogers (6-2, 170) led Purdue in pass breakups with 11, while junior Jacques Reeves (6-1, 191) had three interceptions to pace the Boilers. Senior safety Ralph Turner (6-2, 220) returned a pick 23 yards for a score against Minnesota. Turner has 225 career tackles and four interceptions in a 35-start career.

GAME OUTLOOK: Purdue's defense ranks first in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense, first in third-down defense, and first in opponent first downs. At the Sun Bowl press conference, most Purdue players seemed convinced that Washington will throw it seventy percent of the time, and with their highly-rated secondary, are looking forward to the challenge. They point to having faced Michigan State's Charles Rogers (who caught eight balls for 162 yards and two scores) as their readiness for Reggie Williams. It should be a terrific match-up.

PLACEKICKING:  Berin Lacevic 8-16 FG (long 37), 44-45 XP
PUNTING:       Brent Slaton 59-39.5 (long 64), .373 inside the 20
KICK RETURNS:  Anthony Chambers 9-19.9 (long 30), 0 TD
               Jerod Void 9-19.1 (long 32), 0 TD
PUNT RETURNS:  Anthony Chambers 26-10.3 (long 76), 1 TD

It's certainly been an adventure for Purdue's special teams. Junior place-kicker Berin Lacevic has only connected on half of his field goal attempts - and is zero-for-five from beyond 40 yards. They've never let him attempt one from beyond 46. However, he has hit five of his past six attempts, so there's a bit of light. Junior punter Brent Slaton has an under-40 average, but has put nearly 40 percent of his efforts inside the opponent's 20 - an outstanding number. Slaton has had three punts blocked, however - and Lacevic has had a field goal snuffed.

RS Anthony Chambers
(Getty Images)
Junior Anthony Chambers, a wide receiver, is the primary Boilermaker return man. Chambers broke a 76-yard punt return for a score against Notre Dame. Both he and short-yardage running back Jerod Void (who has 10 rushing TDs) average 19 yards per kick return.

GAME OUTLOOK: Purdue ranked last in the Big Ten in kickoff returns, and fifth in kick return coverage. They use the punting game to their field-position advantage. Their abysmal field goal percentage played havoc with the Boilermaker red-zone percentage. Though Chambers does have a punt return score, this match-up looks (for one of a scant few times this season) like a Husky advantage, though Washington isn't exactly a great kick-blocking unit - a Purdue weakness that begs to be exploited.
KIBBLES AND BITS . . . Both Purdue and Washington have sold about 3,500 tickets each out of their Sun Bowl allotment . . . This is the Boilermakers' sixth-straight bowl appearance (all under Joe Tiller) - but only their 10th overall. Conversely, it is Washington's 12th-straight appearance (when bowl eligible) . . . It shouldn't surprise anybody if there happens to be a punt return for a score on Tuesday. Already there have been six punt returns for touchdowns during this bowl season (as of this writing) . . . With Purdue's 33-27 loss to Washington State last year, the Big Ten is 3-5 overall in their eight previous Sun Bowl appearances . . . Nineteen Huskies on the current roster played in the 2001 Rose Bowl against Purdue. Seven started the game (Braxton Cleman, Ben Mahdavi, Derrick Johnson, Chris Massey, Owen Biddle, Greg Carothers, and John Anderson), while Purdue returns six starters from that game - all on defense . . . With 389 passing yards, Cody Pickett will surpass the career 7,000-yard mark. Still, he would need numbers similar to those this season (4,186 yards so far) to make a run at Carson Palmer's PAC-10 career record of 11,515 yards passing . . . For those traveling to El Paso: On Monday evening, there will be a "Battle of the Bands" at the Sun Bowl Fan Fiesta held at the UTEP Swimming and Fitness Center, featuring the Husky and Boilermaker marching bands . . .
Rick Samek can be reached at RSAMEK1@ATTBI.COM Top Stories