Defensively, they are missing some guys from a year ago but the front four is basically the same as it's been except for Everson Griffin. They moved Devon Kennard to middle linebacker and he is making a good adjustment. Their secondary is led by [Shareece] Wright at cornerback, who is a heck of a player. The probation aspect will probably show in a couple of years, not necessarily now because they have the whole team coming back."
Much like Arizona State, USC has also lost a couple of games (to Washington and Stanford) this season, but even though the Trojans are just one game better than the Sun Devils Erickson realizes how stiff of a test this upcoming road game will be.
"They're one of the better teams in our league and it's a challenge for us," Erickson commented. "We are looking forward to playing them and it's been at least ten years since we've beat them. More importantly we have to concentrate and try and get our fifth win."
Erickson has a lot of respect for USC head coach Lane Kiffin, and also knows his father and Trojans defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin who for several years was one of the best in his position in the NFL, namely with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Sun Devil skipper indicated that he doesn't see much difference in general between defensive schemes that are run in the NFL and those employed in college football.
"You see a little more 30-front in the NFL and a lot more match-ups," Erickson explained. "You might have a linebacker play on first down against the run and then substitute to play five or six defensive backs. Most college teams don't do that. They'll play nickel.
"He's doing a lot of the same things he did when I competed against him in the NFL. Obviously, the Tampa 2 is something he originated. He's been around and he is a great coach. He's seen it all. Nothing shocks him."
With a large percentage of Southern California players dotting the ASU roster, anytime the maroon and gold venture into that territory it can have its recruiting benefits as well as its challenges.
"Regardless of where you are at, if you are on TV you need to play well," Erickson noted. "Players look that. Obviously L.A. is a recruiting piece for us. We'd like to go there and show them that you are making improvement that you're getting this thing turned around and things are going in the right direction. It would be nice to go down there and play well.
"It's a business trip as far as we're concerned so we have to focus on the game. Sometimes, in my experience over the years you have all kind of people around the hotel and sometimes you lose your focus on what's going on. We're going to try to avoid that." Sophomore quarterback Brock Osweiler got to see extensive duty in ASU's 42-0 win over Washington State and completed 6 of 15 passes for 75 yards.
"I thought Brock did some pretty good things watching the tape," Erickson said. "He threw the ball really well. He ran when he had to. I thought he got it out quick. He did some awfully good things. It was good for him to get a chance to play. That's the only way you get better. He was back to where he was executing real well. He had a good week of practice when he had the opportunity. It reflected in how he played, when he got a chance to play."
Last Saturday's game also marked the return of offensive guard Jon Hargis who rehabbed his torn ACL in just six months and turned in a good performance to boot in the win.
"He was a little bit sore, but he didn't harm (the knee) at all," Erickson commented. "I told my players after the game here's a guy six months after an ACL and comes out and plays…that's what he thinks about you as teammates. He wants to help you win. To me it's an amazing recovery story."
Erickson added that Hargis, who was inserted at the beginning of the fourth quarter could see extended playing time but that guard he's backing up, Mike Marcisz has been playing well as the starter and the lineup won't be altered.
The ASU head coach announced that defensive tackle Bo Moos will miss the next two games with an MCL sprain and safety Mike Callaghan who is also one of the leaders on special teams is doubtful for the USC game due to an ankle sprain.
With needing three wins in their last four contests of the season, ASU definitely has a steep mountain to climb and Erickson believes that if the team can achieve its ultimate goal.
"We feel like it's the last third of our season and there are a lot of opportunities out there against a lot of good football teams," Erickson said. "We're just worried about USC now, but they're all challenges to say the least. Our players are excited about playing. We feel like we can compete with anybody we have left. We just have to go out and do it."
"Our goal is to go to a bowl game and we don't have much room for error. We have to prepare ourselves and become more consistent. We are playing on the road and we should be used to that by now. It's fun for our players to go back. We have a lot of players on our team from the area and they like to play well in front of their family and friends."