Huskies closing in on Pasadena
Print up the T-shirts. Order the tickets. Make the hotel reservations. The Washington Huskies are going to the Rose Bowl.
Just don't tell that to their head coach.
"It's way too early to celebrate," UW head coach Rick Neuheisel said. "But these people (the UW fans) get so excited and travel in such great numbers that the right thing to do is to celebrate with them when we're victorious."
With Saturday's 33-25 victory over Arizona, the Huskies (6-3 overall, 5-1 Pacific 10 Conference) virtually cemented themselves as the Pac-10's representative to the Rose Bowl. All Washington has to do is defeat last place UCLA in Pasadena next weekend and Washington State at home Nov. 20.
The Husky faithful can thank junior quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, who was 16-of- 28 for 208 yards against the Wildcats despite being nearly crippled with a bruised hip.
Neuheisel was close to pulling Tuiasosopo after the first two offensive drives netted just 18 yards.
"I had my finger on the trigger of pulling him," Neuheisel said. "But he warmed up, went back in and did really well."
The quarterback is no stranger to adversity, running for 207 yards and passing for 302 against Stanford on Oct. 30, despite sustaining the injury in the first quarter.
"We've seen what he's accomplished this year," Neuheisel said. "I don't think anyone can feign surprise with what he's capable of."
The Huskies' offense dominated the second half, converting on five straight third downs in an 80 yard, nine minute, 13 second drive.
"That's the character of this team," Tuiasosopo said. "The coaches kept us focused. We figured that we could do it if we kept battling."
"The last drive was a thing of beauty," he said. "(Considering) how we hit balls on third down conversions, continued to move the chains and eat clock. It was a real hard thing for UA to withstand. In the end, they weren't able to."
The Huskies defense was able to shut down UA's versatile offense, limiting running back Trung Canidate to 105 yards, 74 of them coming on a second quarter touchdown.
"The defense was awesome," Tuiasosopo said. "They would make a play and step it up when they had to. They don't quit."
Wide receiver Dennis Northcutt, despite having eight catches for 112 yards, did not score a touchdown.
"We knew the offense tried to get him (Northcutt) the ball with reverses, screens, and passes," UW sophomore cornerback Anthony Vontoure said. "We just tried to watch him at all times like any premier player."
Neuheisel, who gained a reputation for being player-friendly while at Colorado, is in his first year at Washington and is quickly earning a reputation among the players.
"Coach has definitely brought about a change," Vonshoure said. "When (former UW head coach) Jim Lambright left, we knew we had to take our program in a good direction."
Next Saturday's game against UCLA will be special for Neuheisel. The former Bruin quarterback helped lead UCLA to a 45-9 victory over Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl and currently holds the Bruin single-season and career completion percentage records.
"There is so much going on that is more important than my return to UCLA," Neuheisel said. "It's really not even a sidelight, it's more of an up-in-the-rafters light. It's the University of Washington versus UCLA. That usually speaks for itself."
If everything goes their way, next Saturday's game against UCLA will be the first of two visits to the Rose Bowl for the Huskies.