Aug. 26, 2002
Seattle - Opening Neuheisel statements:
"We are certainly thrilled with the idea that college football is upon us. I think all of us got a chance to watch some games this weekend. We saw some great competition, and we expect nothing less in our first ball game against the great University of Michigan. Anytime you're playing a program of that caliber your competitive juices get flowing all the more quickly because you know that it is a memory maker. Those are the kind of games regardless of the outcome you're going to remember for a lifetime, and you want the likes of those memories to be as positive as humanly possible. I think our football team has prepared well, we hit a couple of injuries, but for the most part most of those kids are going to return for action. I'm just really excited about the chance to go back to one of the famed venues in all of college football, and have a chance to play against one of the premier programs and hopefully find a way to eke out a victory to get started in the year 2002. We're thrilled, we're looking forward to it, lots of work to be done between now and then, but we'll show up and give them the best we got."
What are the Characteristics of a Lloyd Carr Michigan football team?
"I think Coach Carr is an excellent coach. I think the thing you point to first is that they are not going to beat themselves. I think it was probably a very painful loss for them last year in that they kind of controlled the game, and were in control into the fourth quarter, and lightning struck and all of a sudden they found themselves behind. His is a very efficient way of playing football, they're going to lead with their defense. I think, again, you'll see them lead with their defense, they'll play a field position ball game, they'll be really solid in the kicking game, and they'll wait for you to beat yourself. We've got to understand that and play within that framework so that we don't allow the field to get really short in their advantage."
Coach Carr touched on he thinks they have one of the best defensive lines they've ever had in his tenure, with Zajac out do you have a lot of confidence with the offensive front to control the line of scrimmage?
Certainly that will be a pivotal point of emphasis in the game. You don't know as much as you would like without having played a game first, but I feel confident that we do have a good front. A year ago we went into this game having four or five guys having never played. That isn't the case this year, all five of our starters even with Elliot being down, have played and played well. That doesn't necessarily guarantee they are going to dominate the line of scrimmage against a fine front like Michigan, and it sounds like they have a lot of depth. The bottom line is can we keep our pads down, can we move the line of scrimmage, can we give our passer some time when necessary, and can we open some holes for our running back, and I think our kids are ahead of where the were a year ago at this time."
Talking about the match up between Reggie Williams and Marlon Jackson, and more specifically what Williams brings to the program after being here a year?
"I think coach Carr hit the nail on the head when he said 'you've got two great athletes that are going to compete like crazy, and I think probably both will make some plays in the game. You would expect that when you have that kind of talent and that kind of competitive energy being exhibited on the field of play in front of 108,000 people. They're both going to make a lot of plays. Reggie is fun to have on our team because he is exactly what their find cornerback is to them. He exudes a passion for the game, he loves to play, and it's not just when he has the ball in his hands. He likes to block, he likes to celebrate when someone else scores, he loves being in there. We had to sit him out for the first week of practice resting his foot, and he is completely healed from that injury thankfully, but in that week he had to watch, it was almost painful for him to not be able to be out there and participating, and that's what you expect from great athletes regardless if it's football or what have you. The great ones always want to be in there all the time. W e think we have a number of players that fall into that category, and I know Michigan does as well."
Preference of starting out the season at Michigan and the 12-game season.
"I think there are pros and cons, but ultimately we don't always get to decide, we just play them as they come. The advantages of playing a Michigan in the opening game is the excitement that illicits from not only your players but everyone surrounding your program in anticipation of the season. You're pretty much guaranteed your kids are going to work hard in the summer, they understand the stakes coming out of the box...there are huge upsides in terms of preparation. Your guys are going to be that much more willing to do the extra work in the summertime when we can't be around. The downside is you're not sure exactly of everything in your program. It's much easier to make evaluations and determinations as to which way you proceed after seeing yourself play, and finding out who can and who may not be able to hold up at particular positions. To play against the caliber of Michigan can be an exposing situation. You hope that's not the case. You hope that you can hang in there and go toe to toe with them, and I'm confident we'll fight to the finish. I know Lloyd likes his team, I like my team, and I think we'll both be excited to show up on Saturday."
Sometimes things don't go as planned. Is it important to get the kids to relish the challenges that venue whether things are going well or not?
We've talked about being on the road, and not just Michigan, but being on the road and realizing there are going to be slows in momentum where the home crowd gets excited, and not to let that intimidate us. A year ago we did not play particularly well on the road, and for us to reach our goals this year we need to play much better. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to practice that, but we do have 108,000 people who are going to be rooting against us. Part of maturation, part of being a great football team, is the ability to dig deep. To find ways to battle through adversity, to not let a tidal wave of noise or tidal wave of emotion and momentum sweep you underneath the table. You've got to be able to withstand that and come back, and usually it comes back with someone stepping up and making a play, not waiting for someone else to make it but someone stepping up and making it themselves. We'll talk more and more, and we practice with a lot of noise in our indoor facility, we'll continue to do that so that it becomes something that won't effect us."
What have you done to prepare for the noise.
I don't really want to share everything that we've done in that regard. Basically it's just conversations and ways to approach situations that will present themselves as the season unfolds, but ultimately it's about us, and the idea of treating it as a challenge, as a fun thing to take on, rather than something difficult and insurmountable. It's 'Hey we did this, and we did it together,' we're going to find a way to elicit victory regardless."
Carr said he didn't use last years game as a preparation (motivation) to this years game...did you?
" He's absolutely right. We'd love to take four of those points and add them to the scoreboard this year because we didn't need them all a year ago, but they don't let you do that. This is a new season. Certainly the players who played in last years game will recall it, and if there is a revenge motive on their side that wouldn't surprise me. It wouldn't surprise me that he would mention something of that nature because they had played well up until the point lightning struck here. The bottom line is it is a new year, new kids surfacing as leaders and new identities to be examined as kids grow up. I'm hopeful our team grows up quickly, because we'll need to."
Thoughts on Michigan quarterback John Navaro.
"John Navaro is a big, strong arm quarterback that is, as coach Carr said, has a lot of experience. That's always a concern when you're playing against a quarterback that's had lots of chances t o be out there. As I watched the weekends games there were a lot of quarterbacks playing for the first time and it was obvious. It certainly helps your defense if you've got a guy who's maybe a little quick to pull the trigger, but we're not getting that advantage this weekend playing against a big guy like him. Another thing that impresses me about him is how strong he is. It's difficult to get him down. He looks like King Kong fending off planes as people try to get in there and he still throws the ball 30 or 40 yards down field. He is a big son-of-a-gun that we're going to have to get a lot of pressure on him if we're going to get him errant in his throwing motion."
Neuheisel on the Wide Receiver position.
Both Reggie and Paul missed a number of practices in fall camp, so conditioning is the bigger concern rather than their health. I think they're both healthy. The question is how will they handle conditioning. It promises to be a warm humid day in Michigan this time of year, and I don't know that they can play the whole game, but fortunately we've developed depth. Guys like Charles Fredrick, Eddie Jackson, Wilbur Hooks, and Pat Reddick have all done very well in camp and all will play."
Neuheisel on this weekends match-up and its importance.
"What makes this such a great match-up to start up the college football season, and why [ESPN Pre game show] Gameday chose it as their site for the ball game, is that both programs start every year with the idea that they are going to be in the hunt for a conference championship. For the most part the programs have been able to deliver, at least being in the hunt, not always getting the championship banner, but always being in the hunt. This year is no different. Both of us start right around the top 10. Both of us feel we have a lot of strengths we hopefully can play to. I know Coach Carr will be disappointed if they're not right where they need to be in those games in November, as will I here in Seattle."