Huskies downplay Hurricane pressure

  • John Sleeper / Herald Writer
  • Monday, September 10, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By John Sleeper

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – Aside from the fact that it’s a nationally televised game, that it gives opportunity to show off the program to hundreds of prospective recruits, that it’s key to the national-championship hopes of both teams, Saturday’s Washington-Miami tilt doesn’t mean much.

At least, if you believe Washington coach Rick Neuheisel.

Publicly, at least, Neuheisel is sticking to the notion that the crucial thing at this juncture of the season is for the No. 13 Huskies (1-0) to improve. In fact, that likely will be the mantra up to and through Washington’s meeting against Cal Sept. 29, the Pacific-10 Conference opener.

“I don’t want to get so caught up in game-planning of an opponent in the non-conference that we lose sight of what our goals are,” Neuheisel said. “Our goals are to win the conference here in the Pac-10 and to develop our players. If you get caught up in the game-planning of an opponent at this portion of the season, you might exclude some of those young players because they are not up to this kind of challenge at this point in their careers. We have got to continue to build as a program.”

The other side of that, of course, is this: What better way to build a program (i.e. attract elite high school and junior college talent) than to beat the No. 1 Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl on national television?

After all, a program builds its reputations in playing against the Michigans and the Miamis and in the Rose Bowls. What potential recruit will get hot and bothered over the next game on the schedule, when the Huskies play Idaho? Will kids flock to Oregon State because the Beavers beat New Mexico State Saturday? Or to Washington State because the Cougars are 2-0 after beating Idaho and Boise State.

Of course not.

“Playing in big games is why I came to Washington,” tight end Jerramy Stevens said.

Not only playing in big games, but also winning them, as Washington did against Miami last season at Husky Stadium. Just as the Huskies did against Michigan Saturday.

While Neuheisel is building the Huskies’ first three games as preparation for the conference season, don’t tell the players that Miami, as well as Michigan, are merely dress rehearsals for Cal. Yes, Washington has issues with its anemic offense, punt-return team and tackling, but that doesn’t mean the players believe the real season starts Sept. 29.

“The goal is to win all three games, to get a head of steam going before we head into conference play,” UW center Kyle Benn said.

And while Washington comes into Saturday’s game a three-touchdown underdog, Neuheisel, for one, isn’t buying it.

“I think it’s tremendously advantageous to have already experienced the field of play against an opponent to allay some of the fears that might be associated with the No. 1 team in the country,” he said. “The media has a way of building people up to be sometimes insurmountable. Certainly, Miami is worthy of all their praise, but our kids have been on the field with them.”

Homies should play: While it is a given that Miami natives John Anderson and Rich Alexis willl play against the Hurricanes Saturday, it was less clear whether Charles Frederick would, given that he didn’t play against Michigan.

Neuheisel, though, said Frederick probably will see action.

“We want to try and get him involved this weekend, especially since he is returning home,” Neuheisel said. “He certainly has had a good attitude, worked hard in practice and we are going to get him in the game this weekend.”

Frederick missed much of preseason camp because of injury and a bout of homesickness. Homesickness was blamed on Frederick’s missing several practice sessions two weeks before the season opener.

UW injuries: The Huskies came out of the Michigan game relatively injury free. Wideout Todd Elstrom, who had a pair of tender hamstrings but played against the Wolverines, should be ready to go against the Hurricanes. Wideout Justin Robbins, who missed the Michigan game because of a hamstring pull, is questionable for Saturday.

Lowe honored: Washington corner Omare Lowe, who blocked a field goal that led to a touchdown and scored a TD himself on an interception return in the Huskies’ 23-18 victory over Michigan Saturday, was named the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Week.

Also, Washington State wide receiver Nakoa McElrath was named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week. In WSU’s 41-20 victory over Boise State, McElrath had eight receptions for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

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