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13. Washington

It's easy enough to name the key to the Huskies' season. Can you say Tuiasosopo?

By Austin Murphy

The Book
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."

Sports Illustrated 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.

Washington Tuiasosopo earned his teammates' respect with his toughness -- as well as his 2,762 total yards. Jeff Gross/Allsport  
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.

Issue date: August 14, 2000

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