Weekly Football Press Conference

Dec. 8, 2000

Weekly Press Conference
Head Coach Rick Neuheisel

General Remarks: 'I was in Pasadena yesterday for the Rose Bowl press conference. Joe Tiller and I were both there and it is obvious that we have two programs going to this game that are absolutely thrilled to be there. There was very little talk of the BCS. There was very little talk about what should have been or might have been. It was two teams that were absolutely elated to be going to the Rose Bowl game and that is how it should be. The Rose Bowl is the Granddaddy of Them All and I think it is appropriately named having had experience in that game, I can imagine there is no greater thrill. We are fired up. Our kids are trying to do everything they can to make sure that finals are going well and also trying to keep their bodies in good shape so that when practice begins in full tilt, which will begin next Thursday, we will be in position to enjoy this trip like none other. Our plan is to leave on the 20th and travel down to California and stay at the Santa Monica Loews Hotel, then let the kids go home for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, then return to the Beverly Hilton on the evening of Christmas night and then continue our preparation for the game on January 1st. We are really looking forward to Purdue. They are a great team. Obviously Drew Brees is their leader. He has amassed an unbelievable amount of yardage and has had a great career. He is one of the few guys I know at the college level who returned for his senior season to try and get something accomplished and then actually accomplished it. He said he wanted to come back and take Purdue to a Rose Bowl and he has come back and done that. He is a fiery player, a very talented player and one that fortunately we have a month to prepare for. If you didn't have a month I am not sure you could stop their offense. As Joe Tiller said yesterday their philosophy is to throw it until they get hot and then throw it some more. They will do that. We will be working hard to try and find a way to slow them down. Our offense and defense will remain very similar to what you have seen throughout the year and we will see if it is good enough to get us to 11-1 and be called the Rose Bowl champions.'

On comeback victories: 'Since the beginning of my time here we have been a team that has played pretty well in the fourth quarter. We have outscored our opponents since I arrived here by a pretty hefty margin in the fourth quarter. I am not exactly sure why that is, whether we are not good enough to play all four quarters or we are not prepared enough to out of the blocks playing well. I am not exactly positive why that is. It tells me something about the character of the program in that regardless of what the score is we are going to play to the finish. I am pleased that we have such good character in our program and it is obvious that Purdue has the same kind of character in that Purdue has won a lot of close games.'

On Purdue quarterback Drew Brees: 'His accuracy is what stands out to me. I don't know that he is blessed with great height or speed or any of those things you might say about other people but I know that he is very aware. You can look only at the mount of times he has been sacked to know that this is a very aware player. To throw the amount of times they throw and have as many formations that are as spread out as their formations and only be sacked eight times in the season shows that this guy knows where to go with the ball and knows how defenses play. That is the most frightening thing when you are the defense lining up to play against a guy like that. He absolutely knows what he is doing. The other thing is the accuracy. When he throws it the ball is where it needs to be and that is why he has had a great career at Purdue and it is why he is gong to have a great career at the next level.'

On Marques Tuiasospo's importance as a runner and thrower: 'I think Joe Tiller said it best in that both programs are there because we have ridden on the shoulders of our quarterbacks and that both of us would be hard pressed to want to trade. Marques has been everything we have asked him to be. He has been a great leader, a role model, and a great student. He has everything you could ask of a guy. On the football field he can beat you throwing or running but he will find a way to beat you. When we don't end up with more points it is usually because we ran out of time. He is a competitor to the end. Because of his ability to lead like that he has made it easier for other players to believe that it is possible. Everybody gets involved in the act in the fourth quarter.'

On the defensive game plan against Purdue:'I am not exactly sure. We are in the recruiting phase of it right now so I can't tell you we have done a lot of research but just off the top of my head I know one thing is that we can't do just one thing. We have got to have a mixed bag of looks because when you look at his numbers and see he has only been sacked eight times you see you are dealing with a very heady player and a guy that understands pass protection and a guy that knows how to get rid of the ball when an unblocked guy is on his way. It is obviously a well-oiled machine that is their offense. We are gong to have to have a variety of looks. It gives us at least hope that we have so much time to prepare. Getting ready for this type of offense in one week would be very problematic.'

On the affect of the Curtis Williams situation: 'We were on a roll before it happened and then when the injury occurred it was devastating. I am not sure our defense recovered until maybe the second half of the Arizona game, those being his closest teammates. The wide range of emotions that kids go through, and coaches go through and everyone else goes through in respect to the hope that he will be okay and the realization of the significance of the injury and the worry of what might be, those things weigh heavy. There are two ways teams can go. They can decide this isn't worth it or they can say we have to pick up the flag and carry it for our fallen teammate. Fortunately we have a lot of character in this program and we have a lot of guys who found a way to pick it up, not the least of which is Greg Carothers who had to replace Curtis. Greg is a freshman from Montana who I thought played really well, especially one play that sticks in my mind. He had a big hit against Arizona in the first half that seemed to wake people up. We were kind of walking on egg shells out there playing defense and Arizona was having their way with us on the ground and Greg made a tackle that seemed to give us a little life. We went in at halftime and got things turned around and found a way to win the game. I have been so proud of this team. I am proud of the way they have dealt with the injury to Curtis and also I am proud of Curtis and how he has dealt with it. Our weekly visits to see him have been very uplifting in terms of realizing that while his body may not be responding to the extent we would hope, he is still fighting the good fight and I believe that this story will have a happy ending.'

On Marques being recruited as a defensive back: 'I was one of those other schools that recruited him as a defensive back. We wanted him to be a linebacker or defensive back at Colorado. Certainly he was a gifted athlete. They had an offense that featured him as an option quarterback and you didn't see a lot of passing. It was difficult to know if that was because he couldn't or if it was because that was the way the coach wanted it. Rather than telling him he was going to come in and be our quarterback I told him he was going to come in and be an athlete with a chance a quarterback but I really felt he would have an impact on our defense. Thankfully he decided he was a quarterback and that he was going to prove that was the case and he has done that. Upon my arrival here I was ecstatic to know that we had Marques at quarterback for my first two years here.'

On the health of the team: 'We are in pretty good shape. We got pretty banged up at the running back position late in the season. Willie Hurst broke his clavicle and he is going to get a x-ray next week, which will mark five weeks since the injury. You would have to amputate Willie's arm to keep him from playing in this game. He is going to play. How soon he will be ready to practice is the issue. Rich Alexis has a sore shoulder but he will be ready to play. Paul Arnold is still nursing a bad back and is probably the most questionable of the three tailbacks that have been hurt. We will have to wait and see how that goes. Most of the rest of the team is fine. Most of the kids who have been hurt throughout the season probably won't return for this game. Anthony Vontoure will be fine. He has a cast on his wrist but they will reduce it so he can play unobstructed.'

On key match-ups in the game: 'The keys for us in the latter part of the season have been with the offensive line and their ability to control the line of scrimmage. It will be a great match-up in the game that will be pivotal. Special teams always play a role in these kinds of games. You have been away from football for a while and how quickly you adapt to all facets of special team play will be critical. As always is the case in football games is the turnover game. With two very polished quarterbacks you would expect the turnovers to be minimized but they will still be pivotal.'

On the evolution of the defense: 'That was one of my question marks coming into this season, where we were going to find leadership on our defense. I have been ecstatic about the way kids have played so hard and so well. Certainly we have had some inconsistencies and some games where we feel we could have played better but for the most part we feel our defense has been outstanding. It doesn't rank in the numbers to say that the use of the word outstanding would be the right one but in terms of being there when we needed them they have been there. In the Arizona State game where we played give away on offense they got the ball back for us six times. In a game against Cal where we miss a field goal down 11 with 11 minutes left in the game they go out and get three straight turnovers. So I have been very pleased with our defense and with our kids that play on that side of the ball and we are going to need them in a big way on January 1.

On tailback Rich Alexis: 'To say that we expected the type of output we got from Rich Alexis would be the biggest lie imaginable because he has only played one year of high school football. We certainly saw great potential in Rich enough to sign him to a scholarship and hope that he could develop into a great player. For him to burst on the scene as quickly as he has is a great surprise and certainly an important reason we are in the position we are in.

On how Purdue compares to teams Washington has played: 'I guess the teams that spread it out on offense which would be Oregon State and Washington State. But I haven't watched enough tape to say who they are most like.'

On Purdue Head Coach Joe Tiller: 'I haven't spent a lot time with him. I admired him when I was at Colorado and he was at Wyoming running up all kinds of yards. He said yesterday that this is the 13th year that they have been in the offense that they use and they are still learning it which is understating the obvious which is to say that he knows what he is doing. He took his entire staff with him from Wyoming to Purdue meaning that they kept the ground running. They know exactly how to coach their offense and they know how to coach the defense and make sure everything is working in symmetry. The guy is a good football coach. But he is not a guy that tries to wow you with flash. He is going to come at you and come at you and it is obvious that he believes in what he is doing.'

On the amount of coaching changes in the Pac-10 this season: 'You know, it is an amazing profession. I coached four years as a head coach at Colorado in the Big 12 and by the time of my last Big 12 coaches meeting I was in the top half in terms of longevity. I was the fifth longest tenured coach in the league and that was in my fourth year. I am going to be going to meetings here pretty soon and be in the upper two-thirds and it wont be long given this rate, at least I hope I can stay along long enough, that I can be in the top half of the Pac-10. It is just amazing. I think that the BCS and this quest to be number one has got a lot of college football fans upset with where their program currently sits and that is unfortunate because ultimately if you win more than you lose you ought to be considered a success. There are more issues that go into that and everyone has to make their own choices but it is alarming to see how many changes have been made in the coaching ranks.'

On Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson choosing to stay at their respective schools: 'Having left a job at Colorado to come here, it is difficult to leave a job. It is very difficult to leave a job sitting in the town that you are leaving. If you make the decision to stay everyone is happy. Everyone is excited you are staying, everyone is fired up. If you make the decision to go you start a firestorm as I can attest. You have to weather a storm for a long time until all of a sudden it kind of settles out. You have to decide if you are willing to do that. Obviously both those guys were not willing to do that.'

On what he has told the team about the Rose Bowl experience: 'I just convey to them that it is going to be a special trip. It is our job as coaches to make it feel number one, that it is a reward and number two, make sure we prepare them so they can have the greatest of all rewards which is a great game on January 1. A lot of what we will do I tailored after what I did because it was a great experience.'

On recruiting: 'There have been a lot of people that would expect a lot more success because of the changes and because of our success this season. The truth is that recruiting is always the same process. It is always going out and evaluating players and seeing who fits into your program. Sometimes by having a great season it becomes a little problematic because players don't see that they can fit in as quickly as they might at some programs that may be struggling. The coaching turnover has kind of put everything at a stall. There are a lot of guys that are waiting to see what is going to happen. We are trying to move as quickly as we can with great momentum and I feel we are on track to have a great class. I feel good that we have put together a lot of great athletes but also a lot of great kids which is one of the main reasons we are in a great situation this year is the success of our freshman class.

On the most important thing about Rose Bowl preparation: 'Number one is that we make sure the players know it is a reward. Number two is to make sure they understand it is a much better memory if they win the game. As a return for our efforts to make sure it be as special as it can possibly be then we ask that they give everything they have during practice and in preparation and that they be able to concentrate on the game when called upon.'

On the turning point in the season: 'There were lots of plays like that this year because there was so little margin for error. There were three teams in this league that ended up 7-1 in the conference and we end up winning the tiebreaker. The touchdown to Justin Robbins in the last drive against Stanford with less than one minute left given what had taken place in the last minutes of the game, I don't know if we will ever see something like that again. It was amazing given the tragedy of the injury, given the game seemingly looking one sided, given the total debacle with the on-sides kicks, and the offense coming off the field ahead 24-6 with the coaches saying lets get our second-team ready to go, and the next thing they get on the field and they are down 28-24. Not to take any credit away from Stanford, it was a great rally, but our defense was in shock. The rain coming down and the gloom of the day and the thoughts that are going through everyone's mind as to what is Curtis' situations and then three plays bingo-bango-bongo you are in the end zone. That was an amazing deal. Although, I was amazed at the Cal turnaround. Cal was playing almost a perfect game. We came down and missed a field goal and it would have been easy to write it off and if we didn't go out and get the ball back a bunch of times, who knows. That flurry right there was amazing. The Arizona game was amazing coming from behind like we did and Willie's contribution there in the fourth quarter and having to come back again. It was an amazing season. Two kicks that could have tied games by the other teams missed. It was a wild ride. We are excited to have survived it and it won't be one that any of us forget soon.'

On Curtis Williams' condition: 'He is in the same condition. There has been very little progress but they are getting him situated with his wheelchair and he is learning how to use it and his spirits remain upbeat. He is going to do everything he can to get to the game. We are excited that he is looking forward to that.'

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