Erickson Addressing Penalties from Last Game

Head Coach Denis Erickson quipped that he couldn't wait until Sunday to watch his team's penalty-marred 33-14 victory over Colorado. Thus, he popped in the DVD of that game late Saturday night, and stayed up until 3 am still upset over what has transpired. Yet, according to the Sun Devil skipper it wasn't all bleak when it came to his team's performance in that contest.

"There were some negatives obviously, and that's what everybody has talked about, the penalties and so forth," said Erickson in his weekly press conference. "That's taken care of. That's not an issue anymore. But there were some really good things. I thought, defensively, we played really well, ran to the football real well, tackled really good. We're getting better. I see us really improving defensively, particularly in the front four, where we're playing about eight guys and they're getting better all the time. Linebackers have been playing well. Secondary made a couple coverage mistakes that hurt us a little bit."

The Buffaloes surprised their hosts with wrinkles in their defense, which caused the offensive line and running game to struggle. "I thought the coaches did a great job of making changes at halftime and making changes in the middle of the second quarter," Erickson stated. "We decided to go to the no-huddle to try to slow them down in the things that they were doing, to try to get them to sit in one defense, which is what happened. We were able to get in at halftime and make some adjustments to give our guys a better chance to win."

Eight and nine-man fronts should be par for the course as far as the type of defenses the maroon and gold will face this season. The consequences of that scheme, as Colorado learned, can be unfavorable. "You give up the big play, and they ended up giving the big play, and we ended up scoring 33 straight points," Erickson noted. "It wasn't good early, but I thought that, as the game went on, it's a good situation that we were in, for us to learn. Having not been down, having won pretty easily against San Jose State, to now all of a sudden be down by 14 and face a lot of adversity, and then to come back and win the game was a real plus for us. Like I said, we had those penalties, we learned from that, and if it had to happen, I'm glad it happened early."

Erickson remarked that he can live with aggression penalties, but the handful or so of "dumb, stupid penalties" is what ultimately irked him on Saturday night. "The two punt cover things, Omar Bolden's was close but Rudy [Burgess] knows better than to do that," he said. "The shoving and the pushing, we had a couple because of that where one of their guys pushed our guy and we pushed back, and obviously we got the penalty. The dumb penalties like that. They called one on Morris Wooten, and I still don't see it. They called where he jumped on somebody's back to block a field goal, he just jumped up and a guy went and cut him. The official saw him on top of him and they called that penalty. The penalties that we had are very solvable."

"Believe me, we're going to have some and we're still going to be aggressive, but the dumb penalties, some of them we had the other night, and as I told the team, `if you do it, you're not playing.' So if you want to play, that's fine, if you don't, stand next to me and earn your letter, doesn't make any difference to me."

One player that figures to be seldom on the sidelines is wide receiver Mike Jones, who has three touchdowns receptions in two games. "Mike really has developed. Obviously missing a lot of spring football because of baseball and not being there all the time, he never was in football shape just because of that and playing baseball," Erickson explained. "Then he had a very good summer, was here and worked out with the rest of the guys and with our receivers. He really has just started to get where you'd hoped he would be. He's playing hard all the time. He's blocking really well. Of course, everything that you guys see is him catching routes. He's doing it. He's making plays, two touchdowns the other night and two big plays. He's a guy that we've got to have. He's big and tall, rangy, tough, and he's having a great year. He's made a huge difference, how he's produced and gotten better."

Another player who has had a sensational start to the season is team-leading tackler Robert James who has 19 stops, including 5.5 tackles for loss. "He's an outstanding football player. He's got a great nose for the football and he can run," said Erickson of the linebacker. "He runs fast, and when he gets there, he hits them pretty good. I just like him, he's the kind of linebacker that really mixes well with the other ones. You've got him playing that weak side, and he's a good blitzer (James leads the team with two sacks). So far, in two games, he's played very well."

Two of the team's biggest plays came in the first half. Safety Troy Nolan's interception return for a touchdown that put ASU just one point behind, and a breathtaking touchdown catch by wide receiver Kyle Williams to put the Devils ahead for good. "It was an unbelievable catch. When he came down with that, I almost fell over," said Erickson. "I'm not sure where Rudy [Carpenter] was throwing it, to be very honest with you. But he saw the 'backer turn his back when you look at on tape, and Kyle's in the back of the end zone and he threw it by the linebacker. It was a great catch… One thing that did show up Saturday was that we had guys step up and make big plays - big catches, big throws, big plays on defense. We made some big plays, which turned that game around, and that was one of them…If you're going to win a lot of games over a year, you've got to have guys that are playmakers and that will make big plays."

Erickson reported that tight end Brent Miller and running back Ryan Torain are day-to-day with their respective injuries. "Brent's got an MCL sprain. It's one of those grades that the trainers give you. They have 1, 2, or 3, and I don't understand any of the three," Erickson commented. "I just said `does he have a chance to play?' The thing that Brent did, he hurt that thing, and just to tell you about Brent, he's dropped some balls and things like that, but Brent had that thing and he played about seven plays afterwards. It kind of tells you the kind of guy he is. He has a very good chance to come back and play."

"Ryan hurt his ankle in the first quarter and didn't play a lot in the first half, and then came back and played. It's sore and stiff. So, with both of them really, it's a day-by-day thing, as far as we'll see when they practice. If not, Andrew Pettes will play a lot more at tight end, and then of course, Dimitri [Nance] and Keegan [Herring] will play, and then there's a possibility that we might have Jarrell Woods back too."

Quarterback Rudy Carpenter found himself scrambling on several occasions against Colorado. At times it was because he got flushed out due to incoming pass rushers, and at times feeling some pressure "where there wasn't pressure." Erickson prefers the junior stay in the pocket, but also contended that: "Great quarterbacks make plays when they get out of the pocket and have a sense to get out of the pocket and look downfield. There are some guys who get out of the pocket and they just run, they don't look downfield. What Rudy does is he gets out of the pocket and has vision downfield and you see a lot of big plays made like that. He gives himself a second chance."

This weekend the maroon and gold warp up their non-conference slate as they host San Diego State, a school that represents a fertile recruiting territory for the Sun Devils. "We're recruiting down there pretty heavily, because it's so close. We've had some players from there, and actually, [defensive line coach] Grady Stretz is recruiting down there," Erickson noted. "We're doing pretty well down there right now from what I see. It's a good area for us to recruit. It's not very far for family, it's an easy drive, and the weather is good, like it is here. It's an area, like all of California, it's going to be fruitful for us in the long term."

Erickson knows San Diego State Head Coach Chuck Long from the days when he coached for Hayden Fry at the University of Iowa. Erickson thinks Long's personality is rubbing off on the Aztecs. "I watched him play, and he was a great competitor. He was a warrior. You don't become a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy without being pretty darn good," Erickson commented. "You can see that competitive spirit in his team and how they are playing. He'll get that thing going. That's a pretty good area down there. Chuck's a good coach and was a good player."

San Diego State presents a young cornerback group that has several players seeing action during a given contest. "Their corners are playing pretty well. All we've got is the Washington State game, so it's kind of hard to tell, but they've got guys that have played before," said Erickson. "They've got some very good athletes back in the secondary from what I saw last night and this morning on tape. They probably have three or four that can play, so that's probably why they're moving them and playing different guys." Erickson added that he expects the Aztecs to show three and four-man fronts, just like they did in their only game this season against Washington State.

The struggles of the running game or the seemingly green secondary of San Diego State won't have the Sun Devils scale down their ground attack on Saturday, according to Erickson. "We're going to try to run the ball against everybody we play. That's our philosophy," he stated. "I don't care who it is. Then when they start bringing people down in there, because if you bring eight and sometimes nine people down there, there are two or three unblocked guys. You can't block them all. So when they do that, you're one-on-one outside so you've got to throw it. But our plan is to go in and try to establish the run every week, and then see what they're doing to us and then go from there."

Erickson admitted to being greatly disappointed after the Colorado game, but does see some sliver lining concerning the events that transpired last Saturday. "I was extremely upset with how we played on offense, but more upset about the penalties. Our kids went through a lot of adversity in that game, fought like heck, and won the game, so I'm proud of them," he said. "It wasn't even about that. It was more about things that can get you beat that you can control. To me, if you do something that's avoidable to cause you to not win, that's not very smart, and that's what I was upset more about than anything, because the week before, it wasn't like that. But to be honest, I'm glad it came up because now we all understand."

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