Erickson confident in turnaround

After an especially dissatisfying performance last Saturday at Cal-Berkeley, Coach Dennis Erickson and the Sun Devil football team returned to Tempe searching for answers. Despite brimming with confidence after winning in Seattle two weeks ago against Washington, the Sun Devils were humbled in a game that featured costly turnovers, an injured quarterback, and inconsistent effort.

It was a game that went from bad to worse for the visiting team. "We didn't play well in any phases of the game. It was very surprising to me," Erickson stated. "I guess you can just shake it off as one of those games, but I have trouble doing that. I think we've got to learn from that experience."

Despite his team's lack of success last weekend, Coach Erickson remains confident that the team will be able to turn it around this Saturday. Strong leadership and a competitive edge, he believes, will suit his Sun Devil squad well as they prepare for Washington State.

"We've been playing pretty darn good and been competitive. So we know what it takes," he said. "We've got guys in the locker room that can do that and they will. I'll look for them to respond extremely well."

Erickson noted that he and the staff spoke to the team after the game about correcting mistakes and possibly making schematic adjustments going forward into the rest of the season.

"After coming off something like last weekend at Cal, we've got to take care of our own problems," Erickson said. "In the games that we've played, and even the games that we've lost, we've been competitive until the end and that just wasn't the case Saturday at all. That bothered me. We've just got to get it straightened out."

Amongst the biggest concerns going forward is the health of a number of key Sun Devil players. Erickson pointed out that both quarterback Steven Threet and linebacker Aaron Oliver suffered concussions last weekend against the Golden Bears. After being checked out by the medical staff, Coach Erickson remains optimistic that Threet will be available to play this upcoming weekend.

"They think he'll be able to go tomorrow," Erickson said. "He can run and do some stuff today. He should be ready to practice tomorrow." Coach Erickson also mentioned that the same precautionary measures would be taken for Aaron Oliver and that he too would most likely be available for action this Saturday.

When asked about the availability of his other quarterbacks, Erickson remarked that sophomore Brock Osweiler will resume duties as the primary backup for Steven Threet at quarterback. "Brock is 100% now. We feel good about where he is at now, health-wise. He'll be our 2nd quarterback." Erickson added that Samson Szakacsy will be relegated back to third-string duties this week.

Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, linebacker Shelley Lyons suffered a broken bone in his foot and will miss the remainder of the season. He is scheduled to undergo surgery on Friday and the expected recovery time is approximately 6-8 weeks.

Erickson was quick to come to his starting quarterback's defense when asked if his performance warranted further review. "Steven Threet gives our team the best chance to win the next five football games, and that's what is most important to me," Erickson stated.

The Sun Devil skipper remains confident that Threet can lead the Sun Devils and that minor adjustments may need to be made to the offense in order to help both he and the team succeed.

"I've mentioned a hundred times that we put a lot of pressure on our quarterbacks to see everything out there all the time," Erickson pointed out. "We've got to look at what we're doing offensively, not that we would change our offense, but let's look at maybe not putting the pressure on him every down."

Possible changes to the offense may include simplified play-calling and a heavier emphasis on the rushing attack for the Sun Devils.

"We're looking at some things right now where he doesn't have to make a decision every darn play," Erickson said. "We can do that in our running game without taking away from some of the things we do offensively. We've got to do whatever gives our football team the best chance to win."

Erickson acknowledged that he also has been concerned with the recent lack of productivity and consistency on the defensive side of the ball.

"We are not playing defense as well as we're capable of playing. We're not nearly as consistent as Coach Bray wants us to be or as I want us to be," Erickson stated. "We didn't tackle very well. We're better than that. We've got to get that straightened out.

"It's something that we've got to deal with and we've got to get better. We've got some guys that played pretty well last year that aren't playing as well as they need to."

Coach Erickson implored that it comes down to accountability for this particular Sun Devil squad. "It's about accountability for everybody on this team, and I'm talking about everybody from offense, defense, special teams, to the coaches," Erickson commented. "We've all got to be accountable and Saturday we weren't capable of playing the way we're capable of playing. We can say that, but now we've got to show it."

With hopes of still qualifying for a bowl game at season's end, this weekend's home contest against Washington State has become a "must win" for the Devils. Coming off a hard fought loss to the Stanford Cardinal last Saturday, the Cougars appear to be a team gaining confidence as they are set to descend upon Sun Devil Stadium. "They're a football team that, as you watch them from the beginning to where they're at now in their season, it's an unbelievable improvement," Erickson said. "You've got to give credit to Paul Wullf and his coaching staff." Despite their current 1-7 record (0-5 Pac-10) Coach Erickson anticipates that the Cougars will present a challenging matchup for the Sun Devils. "Offensively, they've got a lot of weapons. They're spreading people out. Taking advantage of the good receivers they have. Jeff Tuel is really a good, young quarterback. They've scored points and been in every football game."

Washington State has also shown signs of becoming much improved on the defensive side of the ball. Erickson noted Washington State is a basic, smart, and solid football team with some surprising young talent.

One of those talented defensive Cougars is true freshman safety Deone Bucannon who has helped anchor a stout Washington State defensive unit that has put together a string of competitive efforts against Pac-10 competition in recent weeks.

Overall, The Cougars look to provide a formidable test for this is Sun Devil team, now searching to come up with four wins in their remaining five games.


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