As part of his off-season stump speech to alumni groups,
second-year coach Rick Neuheisel would ask for a show of hands.
"Last season, the Sunday morning after we lost to Air Force to
drop to 0-2," he would say, "how many of you were sitting in
your breakfast nooks, reading the sports page and thinking,
We're paying this guy how much?"
Neuheisel didn't blame those who raised their hands. After the
Air Force loss, even his wife, Susan, wondered whether his
million-dollar salary for 1999 was guaranteed.
Neuheisel can now laugh about the sluggish start. Having
inherited an offense with the quick-strike capability of the
Latvian Home Guard and a defense he preferred to keep off the
field, Neuheisel needed his team to control the ball. "So we
went to the option store," he says.
Cribbing from programs ranging from Nebraska's to Woodinville
(Wash.) High's, he cobbled together an option-based attack. The
Huskies not only won seven of their last 10 games, but a star was
born. Quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo made the Pac-10 his rumpus
room, passing and running for a school-record 2,762 yards. Under
esteemed new offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson, Tui should
put up even bigger numbers this fall.
The big question dogging the Huskies is whether the defense will
need as much help as it did in '99, when it gave up nearly 400
yards per game. While this year's unit won't be confused with the
dominant ones of the early '90s that inspired such nicknames as
Purple Haze and Purple Reign, it does have some impact players,
notably outside linebacker Jeremiah Pharms (10 tackles for
losses), free safety Hakim Akbar and tackle Larry Tripplett.
Tripplett was part of a herd of sweat-soaked linemen leaving the
practice field after a half hour of drills on a warm July
morning. Coming the opposite way was Tuiasosopo, accompanied by
a photographer. Heavy flak flew immediately.
"Smile pretty for the camera, Tui!"
"You need us to pose with you, bro? What's wrong? No love for
the fat guys?"
"Truth is," Tripplett said later, "he's the toughest quarterback
I've seen. Watching him in the weight room, joking around,
squatting a bunch of plates, you forget he's a quarterback. He's
our heart and soul."
Indeed. No matter how improved the D is, the Huskies will go only
as far as Tui takes them.
1999 record: 7-5 (6-2, T2 in Pac-10)
Final ranking: not ranked
Yards rushing/passing in the same game, by Marques Tuiasosopo,
the only NCAA player to do it.
An opposing team's coach sizes up The Huskies
"You have to make them run the ball. They don't have an
established running back, and Neuheisel is known as a guy who
doesn't like to run....The versatility of Tuiasosopo is what
makes them go. He also isn't afraid to take a hit....It used to
be that Washington didn't have much speed on defense, but that's
not the case anymore....Tripplett is their best guy up
front....Akbar is a playmaker, but the corners are suspect."
Strength: 30th of 115
Sept. 2 IDAHO
9 MIAMI (FLA.)
16 at Colorado
30 at Oregon
Oct. 7 OREGON STATE
14 at Arizona State
28 at Stanford
Nov. 4 ARIZONA
18 at Washington State
["TELLING NUMBER" COMPILED BY DAVID SABINO]