Improved and ready for second half of season

After ending their three-game losing streak with a win against the Washington Huskies, ASU head coach Dennis Erickson and his team will return to action well rested after enjoying their bye week. The hiatus was time well spent as Erickson and his staff spent time correcting some of the Sun Devils' shortcomings that manifested themselves in the first six games of 2010.

"We just wanted to get better as a team," Erickson said. "We spent a lot of time against ourselves in the bye week because that's the only way you can improve. We got a lot of our young players more time and it was just a matter of improving at what we're doing and then the last day we spent on Cal but it was more about improving ourselves."

The Sun Devil defense has also improved throughout the season. The unit has succeeded in controlling the majority of their opponents but has struggled to prevent big plays. This group is ranked 3rd in the Pac-10 in rushing defense at 123.8 yards a game and has only allowed an average of 22.7 points-per-contest.

"Without a question that has been an emphasis for us," Erickson acknowledged, "giving up big plays and being disciplined back there and we've been able to do that the last couple games particularly against Washington. We were about to stand in there and not let them get something deep or a cheap score on us. They made some plays and that's going to happen in the football game but it wasn't because of a mental mistake.

"Our safeties were in position and we covered gaps really well in the running game and that's what going to be the key for us the last half of the season because people are going to score points, it's just a matter of not giving up a cheap one real quick. Cal if very good at that, because of how good they are at running the football and because of what their philosophy is, they'll lull you to sleep and then all of a sudden they'll run the play action pass. We've got to be very careful with them as far as that goes."

Back-up quarterback Brock Osweiler, who spent the majority of fall camp competing with junior, Steven Threet for the starting job has been sidelined due to a back injury. With Osweiler unable to participate in practice, redshirt junior, Samson Szakacsy has stepped in to fill the role.

"He hasn't practiced for about two weeks," Erickson said. "He has a back injury that is being checked by the doctors, he's not able to throw right now so we'll see what happens. Hopefully he'll be able to practice this week some, we don't know that for sure. If not, then Sam will be the back-up but he got all the work last week and yesterday."

Currently finding success at center, Garth Gerhart has become one of the most valuable assets of the Sun Devil offense. Gerhart has played in 20 career games for Arizona State with 16 starts. The center has also proven his versatility having played at center, right guard and left guard.

"That's a real key," Erickson stated. "Anytime you have an offensive front that has a center that is stable. Garth being raised in a coaching family and his dad being his high school coach; he understands the game extremely well.

"Unfortunately we've had to move him around because of injuries the first couple years he was here and now as a junior he understands what's going on and really is the key to our offensive front. He makes all the calls, snaps it very well in the shotgun, which is harder than a lot of people think. He is the most valuable player in our offensive front, for sure; maybe even our whole offensive football team."

Against the Washington Huskies, linebacker Colin Parker stepped up for the Sun Devils and reached a career-high of 10 tackles.

"He doesn't make very many mistakes, he is very solid," Erickson said. "He is where he is supposed to be. He reminds me a lot, in that way, of Mike Nixon. He is very smart, can run and tackle well. He is just a sound football player that doesn't make mistakes. We're playing six guys in there right now and we're alternating them so we go in there and whoever is playing well, we keep in there and let them play."

Cornerback Omar Bolden entered the season as a potential standout on defense. While the first few games of the 2010 campaign were rough around the edges, Erickson has been noticing the junior's improvement.

"He is getting better, he's getting more confidence," Erickson said. "He got a key pick against Washington. It's not like he's a veteran that has played a lot, he's a veteran that has been around a lot but really hasn't played a lot. He is improving and he has a lot of skills but he needs to continue to get better technique wise in what he sees with his eyes but he is real key for us back there."

Deveron Carr, who started opposite Bolden in the defensive backfield re-aggravated last year's shoulder injury in the Oregon State game and it is still unclear whether or not the corner will be able to return to the field this season.

"That's a week-by-week evaluation," Erickson described. "Right now I'd be surprised if he came back and played. We're going to continue to rehab it and see if he might be able to do that. The problem was when that (shoulder) started to come out on him at the end of camp or during our first game, his confidence level about staying in and being able to be aggressive like he is, it was always in his mind that the thing was going to come out and it's hard to play.

"As we go through the next three or four weeks, he may end up having surgery we just have to look at it for another week or two. I we don't feel like he came come back and help us, he'll go ahead and get surgery but it will be a different surgery. It won't be a scope; it will be one where they tighten the thing down so permanently it should be good."

Carr was replaced by Osahon Irabor who had an impressive performance against Washington with a career-high five tackles.

"He played pretty well," Erickson said. "He a very aggressive player, he played very well against the run. We thought last year, had he not been hurt a year ago with the wrist, he probably would have played for us. He made some mistakes that young players make but he made them very aggressively. He has a good feeling for the ball and he will get better all the time."

Erickson announced that Lee Adams and Jamil Douglas have been suspended indefinitely for violating a team rule. Adams has played in one game for the maroon and gold this season as a defensive tackle and Douglas is redshirting this season.

"Yes, they are suspended indefinitely and that's really all I can say," Erickson commented.

Next up for the maroon and gold are the California Golden Bears. The Sun Devils will travel to Berkley this Saturday to face the Golden Bears who just came off a 48-14 loss to USC. Nonetheless, the Sun Devil's skipper opinion of his next opponent isn't tainted by the least after that lopsided defeat.

"They're talented, there is no question about it," Erickson admitted. "You look at them offensively, (running back Shane) Vereen is an extremely good back and (QB Kevin) Riley has been playing for a long time, they have a lot of talent. Their offensive front has been there for a long time; they have a lot of experience coming back. Marvin Jones is one of the better receivers in our league and their front is really good.

"They got behind early when SC came out like they haven't played in awhile in all aspects of the game. They fell behind on the road and we've been there, it's hard to dig back. Obviously the week before at home, like a lot of teams they played a heck of a lot better so we're both kind of in the same situation record wise as far as where we're going with our season or continuing to go, so it's going to be an interesting game."

The Golden Bears defense proved to be one of the best in the defensive units in the country and led the Pac-10 in that category but last weekend allowed the Trojans to collect 602-yards as well as 42-points in the first half.

"Defensively, they bring a 3-4 scheme," Erickson noted. "(Clancy) Pendergast was obviously with the Cardinals for a long time, extremely good coach. They have a lot of talent. Cameron Jordan is from (Arizona); he's one of the better defensive linemen in our league. Their linebacker core lead by (Mike) Mohamed is extremely good and their secondary lead by (Spencer) Hagan.

"So they've got a whole lot of talent and it's a difficult place to play, it seems like we're traveling quite a bit as of late but they are a good football team. What you saw Saturday against USC, you won't see this Saturday against us, I promise you that."

The University of California's first-year defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast has revamped the Golden Bears' defense and immediately found success. Pendergast, who previously held the same position for the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals, has the Cal defense employing schemes that resemble that of a NFL team.

"It's a three-down scheme but they do it quite differently," Erickson explained. "They'll play with three down guys, they'll play with two down guys, their linebackers are interchangeable, and they'll play a little bit more man coverage. They pressure you a little bit more with their linebackers, but they don't blitz a lot but they do typical NFL stuff where they bring in linebackers and you don't know where the fourth rush is coming from a lot of times."

Offensively, the Golden Bears heavily rely on their run game, which is lead by running back Shane Vereen. The junior scored eight touchdowns this season and runs for an average of 5.7-yards a carry. Against USC, Vereen lead the team in rushing yards with 10 carries for 53-yards.

"This league when you talk about (LaMichael) James and (Jacquizz) Rogers, you have to talk about him in the same breath," Erickson said of Vereen. "He is special and he played good the other night (versus USC). He is a guy that you have to attempt to slow down a little bit. He is really the mainstay of their offense.

"They run play action pass off of him and Riley has been around a long time. You watch them against us last year, you hit him and all of a sudden at the end of the game he took 8 yards to beat us. Vereen and their running game is really the key to what they do, everything is based off of that."


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