First Game Gives Erickson a Clearer Picture

For a first-year coach at a program, even when you're a successful veteran like Dennis Erickson, they're always unknowns concerning your team. After playing the first game of the season, Erickson can naturally better assess his squad in a game situation, and effectively prepare for their next contest.

"We're a long way away from where we need to be," said Erickson in his weekly press conference."We played well at times. Obviously, we're facing what I would consider a much better football team this week, at least as far how San Jose State played, nothing critical of San Jose State, but the level of competition goes up, there's no question about that, so we'll find out a little bit more. But we made a lot of mental mistakes that I didn't realize when I came in here after the game on Saturday night that can be corrected, coverages and so forth."

Aside from Keegan Herring (sprained neck) the Sun Devils were generally unscathed following their game against San Jose State. "Right now, he's questionable," stated Erickson. "…We'll see how it goes during the week. I doubt that he'll have any contact during the week. He has a pretty good chance to play. Keegan's a tough guy now, and if there's any way that he can play, he'll play."

The 45-3 blowout win against the Spartans gave Erickson a chance to see many of his backup players in action. One player that had invaluable experience was second string quarterback Danny Sullivan, who did more than just hand off the ball and throw an occasional pass. "He was able to execute our offense. He was able to throw the ball up the football field," Erickson remarked. "It was funny, that was his first touchdown pass of his career. Every other time he's come in and played the only pass he ever threw was a naked bootleg because they're trying to run the clock out so he's faking the run. Really that's the first time he really got to execute an offense in college where he was able to use all the weapons. So it was really good for him."

The Sun Devil coach also mentioned reserve offensive lineman Richard Tuitu'u getting a chance to play, and having Robert Gustavis take snaps at center, a position he really hadn't played before for ASU, as he stands for Thomas Altieri who's still nursing an injury. "Defensively, we played a lot of different guys, got a chance to see a lot of different guys play," Erickson commented. "But it helps. You can practice all you want until you get into a game; it's the same thing with those second guys too. As you know, they are an injury away from playing, so it helps you develop depth."

With 123 yards, an average of 7.2 yards a carry, and three touchdowns, running back Ryan Torain has started the 2007 campaign on a strong note to say the least. When asked to compare him to other backs he coached, Erickson wasn't short on the compliments. "His intensity level is as good as anybody that I've ever coached. He's very similar to Steven Jackson in that way," he stated. "He's an extremely good blocker, a physical runner that can run over people, break tackles, and he's got good speed. I thought he ran very well Saturday, but like anybody else, they've all got to get better, and he knows it. He's got to play with a little lower pad level, which he does, so at times he's got to get a little more consistent with that, but he's a guy we're depending on and we're going to jump on his back for awhile."

Erickson mentioned that he admired Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, and the work he has done with the Buffaloes, as well as at other places he coached at. "I've watched him grow as a coach over the years, starting when he took over for coach Koetter as Boise State and the great success that they've had and have continued to have, of course," said Erickson. "I've watched him at Colorado. He's very good at dealing with players, from what I see. He's a got a philosophy that he doesn't vary from. They're obviously good offensively and defensively. It's just a staff; they've been together for awhile. But he's an outstanding young coach and has done a good job every place he's been."

ASU's head coach noted that Colorado's performance against Colorado State last Saturday shows marked improvement from where the program was last season. One of the biggest factors Erickson pointed to was the play of Cody Hawkins, the head coach's son.

"He knows what he's doing and understands that offense. He's probably been studying it since he was about six years old," Erickson quipped. "He understands the game, he understands what's going on, and he throws it the right place. He's a redshirt freshman, but he plays like he's been around for a long time. I think last year they were very good defensively and still are, but they were hurting a little bit on offense just because of that position, and they are a lot better now there."

Last season Colorado lost to I-AA program Montana State, which certainly pales in comparison to last week's home loss of Michigan who dropped a 34-32 contest to Appalachian State. Erickson believes there's a good reason why the talent gap between D-I and I-AA teams has narrowed. "Well, it's numbers more than anything. It used to be 95 scholarships and now it's down to 85 for us, and the I-AA schools, for the most part, have 65," Erickson explained. "So when you have to 85 as opposed to 90 or 95, there are more players out there, and so the I-AA teams are getting better talent-wise, there's no question about it. It's a matter of survival. The best chance for I-AA teams to beat Division I teams is early in the year when they are still healthy."

It is probably impossible to expect the ASU defense to hold all of this season's opponents to three points and 115 yards of total offense each game. Nonetheless, a consistent effort by this group can go a long way in helping the team achieve an impressive record. How does Erickson believe this feat can be accomplished?

"A lot of that is game-planning, which (Defensive Coordinator) coach Bray and the defensive staff do a good job, and keeping it simple so that they understand what gaps to hit so that they can play at full speed," Erickson replied. "We just have to try and keep it as simple as we can. We were very simple against San Jose [State]. You didn't see us blitz a lot. We blitzed some. Our guys knew what gaps to go to. When you do that, you can run to the football and make plays. That's what we were able to do against San Jose State. We don't ever want to take that away from. There are going to be some teams when we match up as the year goes on that are going to be real physical, so we have to try to find a way to move our people and do some things up front, this probably being one of them, that will be a little different game plan than it was against San Jose State."

The maroon and gold have every reason to beam with confidence after the San Jose State win. However, if they follow the lead of their head coach, they already filed away this game and concentrated on what needs to be corrected in time for the Colorado contest.

"You go through all those two-a-days, you go through this whole thing, a coaching change, and all the different things that these guys have had to go through, so now finally you play your first game, and you come out and play well. They were excited about winning the football game," said Erickson. "They were also realistic about where we're at and the direction that we have to go. Good football teams know that. They come out and know where they're at and what they have to get better on. Anybody that sits and doesn't try to improve as the season goes on is going to get beat. So we just have to keep getting better all the time. That's been our philosophy, that's what we preach to our players all the time, and obviously hopefully they can see that as time goes on."

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