The Huskies were halfway through their most dominating Apple Cup performance ever when Marques Tuiasosopo tried to temper the excitement building in the visitors’ locker room.
By that point, with Washington leading Washington State 27-0 at halftime of the 2000 Apple Cup, the Huskies could practically smell the roses already.
Offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson had whispered to coach Rick Neuheisel that Oregon State was beating Oregon in a game that had started a few hours earlier. The Huskies knew the scenario: An Oregon loss, coupled with a UW win, would create a three-way tie for the Pac-10 Conference title, with the Huskies holding the tiebreaker for the Rose Bowl berth.
Word spread in the UW locker room. Tuiasosopo didn’t want to hear it.
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Don’t fizzle, the star quarterback barked. Stay focused. Finish.
It’s a similar message for the Huskies this week with Tuiasosopo preparing for his first Apple Cup as a full-time assistant coach. The Huskies, coming off a dominating victory over the Beavers, are 16-point favorites in the Apple Cup, and there’s buzz building they might finally push past their seven-win doldrums.
“We’re still not done,” said Tuiasosopo, UW’s quarterbacks coach.
No, the Huskies (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) aren’t playing for a Rose Bowl berth when the Cougars (6-5, 4-4) come to Husky Stadium on Friday (12:30 p.m., Ch. 13). But Tuiasosopo, after spending the past two years at UCLA, senses the excitement growing in and around UW once again.
“There’s a good, solid foundation here,” he said this week. “Hopefully we work to finish this season right and then you work in another offseason with a different record than before, and that’s carries a lot of weight. Now you’re looking at how you get from there to the elite levels, and we’re not that far off.”
Tuiasosopo was 2-0 in Apple Cup starts for UW. As a senior, he threw three first-half touchdown passes in Pullman and the third one, Neuheisel recalled this week, was probably the defining play of that game.
UW had gotten the ball back after a WSU turnover in the final moments of the first half. With the Huskies already leading 20-0, Neuheisel considered playing for a field goal. He wanted more.
On a “sluggo” route — a slant-and-go — Tuiasosopo hit freshman receiver Justin Robbins for a 34-yard touchdown, giving the Huskies that 27-0 lead heading into the locker room.
“That,” Neuheisel said, “was the nail in the coffin.”
But it wasn’t until the fourth quarter, after UW had built a 37-3 lead, after Tuiasosopo had given way to his backup and after word spread that the Beavers had indeed beaten the Ducks, that the quarterback finally let loose. The Huskies were heading to the Rose Bowl.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Tuiasosopo recalled.
UW went on to beat Drew Brees and Purdue in the Rose Bowl and finished the 2000 season 11-1. UW hasn’t had more than eight wins in a season since, something Tuiasosopo hopes to help change soon.
Neuheisel and Tuiasosopo remain close. In 2011, Neuheisel had persuaded Tuiasosopo to leave his role as UW’s assistant strength coach to join Neuheisel’s staff at UCLA. After two years in L.A., Tuiasosopo accepted an offer from UW’s Steve Sarkisian to become UW’s quarterbacks coach this season, and Neuheisel sees “Tui” as a rising star in the coaching ranks.
“I have such an affinity for Marques. I loved being around him,” said Neuheisel, now an analyst for the Pac-12 Networks. “He was a tremendous quarterback … and I think he’ll take his coaching career as far as he wants to take it.”
Tuiasosopo, now 34 and a father of three, remains one of the most popular players to ever play for UW.
“My first dream was to be able to play in the NFL,” he said. “My second was to be a coach. And then, you know, I’d love to be a head coach down the road, so I’m just taking it one step at a time and I love it. I love teaching these guys, and I’ve learned a lot of football.”
Tuiasosopo spent eight seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Oakland Raiders, including one season with Sarkisian as his quarterbacks coach. Now, Tuiasosopo said, he and Sarkisian “speak the same language,” and Sarkisian agrees.
“I coached ‘Tui,’ so he knows how I coach; he knows what I’m looking for,” Sarkisian said. “A lot of times I don’t even need to say what I’m thinking. He already has an idea.”
Tuiasosopo is extremely detailed in his demands from UW’s quarterbacks.
“He cares about every little thing — from on the field, to demeanor, to the classroom,” redshirt freshman Cyler Miles said.
“He’s so competitive,” Sarkisian added. “And we all saw it when he played and what he put on the field. He’s the same as a coach, he’s the same in recruiting and he’s the same in that quarterback room with those guys. He’s so competitive. He wants them to be the best — not good, not great, he wants them to be the best. And he challenges them that way.”
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com.