Washington Football Coach Rick Neuheisel Press Conference
Oct. 21, 2002
General Comments: 'We are looking forward to having another chance to right the ship this weekend at Arizona State. We realize we are playing a very hot team coming off a great win over the defending Pac-10 champions, Oregon in a classic ballgame where they threw for 550 yards. I can already anticipate the questions of what kinds of concerns you have when you play a team that throws for 550 yards and you're have such difficulties in keeping teams from making big plays. That is exactly what we are doing right now, ways to get that done and keep our kids positive and excited about the rest of our season because there still is a lot of football left to play. There is a saying that tough times never last, tough people do. We're going to do our very best to remain steadfast in our resolve to improve and become the team we all envisioned ourselves being the very start. I am looking forward to the challenge. I was asked yesterday if I was feeling an inordinate amount of pressure. The bottom line is all the pressure I feel is self-implied. I want to be successful because I know how important football is to the University of Washington. I know how important the program is to the great fans in this state and I don't want to disappoint them. I know they are very disappointed currently and yet we still have a lot of football left to play. We are going to work our tails off so we can put a great product on the field and give every ounce of effort that we have in anticipation of finding the victory circle again as soon as possible.'
On if he finds other problems a distraction to the team this year: 'I can only tell you that personally that stuff had to be dealt with. In terms of handling the football team with regards to the football team itself, I don't see that as anything correlating to the way we are playing.'
On how he will not the let the players become mentally discouraged: 'We are seeing how the other half lives. We've enjoyed a lot of success around here, both prior to my arrival and during the last three years. We've won a lot of games close at the end and came away feeling great about ourselves and never took the time to realize what was going on in the other camp. Now we are in the other camp. There is lots in terms of statistics in the reasons why, but ultimately it comes down to a bunch of people, not just players, but coaches and other people associated with our program, buckling down and improving and getting better from week to week. We've had some injuries and things that have kept us from having continuity at some of the key positions. The bottom line is, that happens to everybody and it's up to us to continue to fight, scratch and claw in an effort to get back to where we all want to be, which is to be considered a very good team and a team that is well coached and well disciplined. This is a unique challenge for this group. I'm excited to see how we respond. I'm pretty sure that we will respond favorably. I believe what I said, that tough times never last. I believe this program will get going in the right direction. But tough people do. If we're tough minded and go about our business in a tough way, we will get back sooner than later.'
On the running back position: 'We're going to have all three guys practice and they will all be available to play. There is always competition. Originally we had hoped that some guy would take over and dominate the play and maybe that is not who we are. I am not saying that it couldn't still happen, but I think all three have shown good things. I want all three to be excited about the chance to participate in fixing an ill running game right now.'
On the inconsistency of the offense: 'We'd like to be a complete football team. That means if you're talking offense, you want to be balanced, that means running and throwing so you can keep people off of you and keep your quarterback protected so you can have a bunch of different lost points and keep defenses at bay. If you're talking defense, you need to be able to stop the run and make sure that can't turn out first downs without having to throw the ball to do so. And when they throw the ball, you'd like to be as competitive as possible in terms of knocking it down and keeping people from staying on the field. So far, we have developed a very capable passing game and a very capable run-stopping defense. We are missing in those other areas. The areas of effectively running the ball and effectively stopping the passing so as to keeping teams off the field and getting the ball back in your offenses hands. We have got to keep working until we get those things solved. But we can't go so far as to throw the baby out with the bath water. We can't say we're not going to throw any more in order to get our running game going and then losing one of the best things we do. You can't go and wholesale change everything you do with your defense and lose what you are doing really well, which is stopping the run. Sultan McCullough averaged 2.2 yards a carry against us on Saturday and I think they rushed for 70 or 80 yards, many when the game was decided. We're in position to make plays on the balls down the field, now we just have to make them. Then we have to ask ourselves if our personal is at their right places. I never doubted the effort level of our guys. Certainly at times, concentration levels can be increased. But in terms of giving us what they have and working hard, we've got wonderful kids to coach. So we have to ask ourselves if we are not clear enough as to what our expectations are or are or they not concentrating or are they not capable. Are we asking them the do things they are not capable of? Those are the questions we are asking and have been asking. You get to game day, that is your grade sheet. If game day happens in a way you projected it wouldn't happen; you have to ask questions again. And that is where we are. It's more fun to be sitting here at 6-1 or 7-0 and be talking about that we have the Arizona State game coming up and we are trying to stay in the Rose Bowl race, than it is to be sitting here to be 4-3 after a loss to Southern California and all the criticisms. But both are coaching challenges. Both are huge opportunities to teach young people. We get the added assignment this week of teaching young people how to deal with adversity and make the most of it. Because, whether it is on the field or off, people are going to be confronted with adversity in their lives and that is why I've always said that football is the greatest game of all because it teaches so many of life's lessons. We're going to keep trying to do those things better and keep researching it until we do.'
On if changes that we made in the off season aren't happening: 'There were some things in the off season that have taken great hold. The question is did they also borrow from some areas where you were okay and now you've become a weaker team. In an effort to become the throwing team we wanted to, did we take away from the running game, as an example. That is the question I am asking myself and I am not sure if there is a real answer yet. In an effort to be a better run defense, did we give up some chances? Obviously those are questions that keep coaches up at night.'
Feelings on playing ASU QB Andrew Walter now that he's on a hot streak?: 'What else is new? Look at what we've done in this season since we've got into Pac-10 play. We've played Kyle Boller who's going to be drafted in the first round in the NFL draft; I'll be shocked if he's not. We've played Jason Johnson who's thrown over 300 yards a game at least at the time we played him, and he's got great wide receivers. We've played Carson Palmer, and all three of those guys are seniors, Carson Palmer, and except for Jason Johnson, who is a two-year starter, the other two guys were four-year starters. It's an unusual deal, and now we're playing another quarterback who is having a great deal of success, I'm not sure he started the season, I don't think he did, but he's certainly come into it. They've got a way about throwing the ball, way down the field and he and McDonald have become a great pair, Taplin's made some great catches. So they're feeling great about themselves, but we're excited about the chance to play them.'
On addressing the problems and fixing what's wrong: 'I'm not sure I have that answer for you yet, it's an ongoing process in terms of asking those questions. Is the message clear? Are we getting what we want coached coached? Are we seeing our coaching on tape? Are the kids capable of doing what we're asking them, or are they just breaking down in their concentration, or are we having lapses in concentration? Lapses in concentration can't happen when you're playing with young players, with guys that don't have a great deal of experience. We can't cop out as coaches and say that's constantly the issue, and that's my job as a head coach, to make sure I'm assessing the coaching going on, make sure guys are getting the messages clearly across to their players and are going to see what they are coaching on game day.'
On player vs. coach faults: 'You can be giving great effort but if you're blitzing when you're not supposed to that's not good concentration. We had a play the other day where we're playing a zone coverage and one guys playing man. They hit the vacated zone. The effort level was fascinating, he covered the heck out of his guy but his zone was left open, and that is a breakdown in concentration. So either that or somehow what we taught him, he thought he could do that, and therein lies a message problem, so those are the kind of things we investigate. That happens all the time, whether you're winning or losing, it just becomes much more focal when things aren't going well in your program.'
On the challenges ahead: 'We're going to keep trying, we're going to keep practicing. We think we have capable athletes, kids that will try, and knuckle down. As I've said, whether anyone wants to delete it, this could be a very rewarding season. For the first time in a couple years we're facing real life adversity, the buzzards are swirling and so forth. The bottom line is this is an exciting thing for those who accept life challenges, and so we have to look at it as such and go bust our tail to see if we can't get this ship headed in the right direction. It'll be a tremendous accomplishment when we do.'
Can the ship be righted after the defeats this season? I think you'd be surprised at that. I don't think you get involved in competitive endeavors without tasting defeat. Now with those young kids that are here, they haven't tasted it a lot, but that's the call to arms. When I arrived here the program was in a similar situation, and those kids rose to the occasion. They decide they were going to put Washington back on the mantle, back up where it belongs, in a place of prestige, and highly respected, and have done so. Now, this new addition of Huskies has a similar opportunity and it's up to all of us associated with the program to band together and get it done.'
On finding a chemistry between offense and defense: 'You have to be able to, there is certainly an opportunity to do that, the question is would it be prudent. You're not just playing offense in a football game you're playing offense and defense. You have to try to find the chemistry that fits between your offense and your defense. It's the left hand knowing what the right hands doing and once you do you'll have that formula, and that formula usually gives you the better chance to win. We actually played with that formula a little bit against Arizona, and if we hadn't had that unfortunate turnover midway through the third quarter, we had a chance to take that game over, but we allowed them back in, some of our weaknesses flared up again, and they got back into the ball game. We're still searching for that formula, but we're still the same coaches that have that formula two years ago in winning the conference. I don't think that there's any lack of knowledge amongst our coaches, I don't think there's a lack of work ethic amongst our players. We now just need to make sure we're not putting square pegs into round holes as we go forward, and that's a constant evaluation.'
On bringing the option back: 'And have Cody run it? Yeah, that's an option, but again, you have to always balance. What does that do in terms of offsetting what we do well? The thing in the option a lot of the times, is that they make your quarterback keep the ball, which is exactly how he got hurt against Southern California, but all things are being considered.'
Looking at Arizona State: 'They're big play oriented, and in the case of playing Oregon, they have a great running game to go with it. They are chucking the ball down the field, and that's the biggest thing I can see in that.'
On ASU's game last week versus ours: 'Arizona state was down 21 to nothing, and then down 28 to 17, and just kept staying alive, and hit on a lot of balls down the field. It's very much like our game. We were down 34-7, then 34-21, and we've got a chance to go back in there and make it 34-28 with probably six minutes left in the game. We got an unfortunate call that said our guy didn't catch the pass, and the bottom line is they just rallied back and finished the job that we didn't.'
On the long ball: 'I think that football is very cyclical, offenses and defenses take turns dominating the play. It got to the point that all defenses have gotten to, being 8 or 9 men in the box, and now offenses are taking advantage throwing the ball way down the field, and so if they get hot as has been the case in some of these situations, via the protection schemes that they have, are allowing the quarterback time to get the ball down the field. You're going to see some big numbers.'
On winning in Tempe, and using the big play: 'I may use anything I can get my hands on we're anxious to get a win. Certainly this place has been friendly to the Husky program we've won each of the last two times there, but we're playing a hot team this year, but I think our guys will be excited to get on that airplane. I know we're going to put in a great week of work, and looking forward to turn it around this Saturday.'