Excited, Not Nostalgic for Oregon State

Dennis Erickson entered his weekly press conference dressed in a long sleeve shirt, quipping that the slightly cooler temperatures had him feeling cold. Or maybe it was just in anticipation of playing one the cooler weather teams in the Pac-10 – Oregon State. His tenure in Corvallis was a very successful one, but ASU's Head Coach claimed that it's just another game with no special sentiments.

Erickson noted that if this week there's any extra bounce in his step and in his players', it's only because Saturday marks the beginning of conference play. "I believe any time you open up the league in the Pac-10, you could see that yesterday when we met. Now it's the Pac-10 conference, which we've got nine football games, and it's unbelievable," he said. "This conference, as you look through it, I have no idea, other than when you watch USC plays Nebraska, they seem to be a little step ahead of everybody, but other than that, anybody can beat anybody. This is our first game. We're 3-0, we had good non-conference games. Now is when it counts. We've got nine football games that count in that league, and it's tough, every single one of them. Our guys know they know what they are facing this week. When you see that, you get that adrenaline running and you prepare and focus a little bit more probably than you normally would."

The Sun Devil skipper dismissed any notion that this weekend's match up will be nostalgic in nature. After all, facing Oregon State isn't a novelty anymore for Erickson. "When I went back last year when I was at Idaho, to go back there and play the first time back, it was probably nostalgic," he explained. "Now it's just, I've been gone; this will be my fifth year. Mike [Riley] has been there for five. I enjoyed my time there, it was a lot of fun, accomplished some things, but it's really no different than any other game anymore."

Another aspect that may make this contest mundane to some extent is the fact that both teams are particularly mirror images of each other. "You look at us, offensively and defensively, we're very similar," Erickson commented. "Offensively, really similar, in that we're in one-back and two-tights, and we pretty much do a lot of the same things, and then defensively, we play a lot of bump, a lot of cover eight, a lot of the same things, very similar. So we got prepared for each other during spring ball."

In the win over San Diego State, Erickson felt that his squad wasn't tackling well. He was encouraged by the improvement in the running game yet wonders how it will fair against the Beavers' stout defense. "…we're playing, in my opinion, one of the best defenses that we'll see all year. They're pretty much senior-oriented," he said. "The game at Cincinnati (a 34-3 loss), in my opinion, was a fluke. If you watch the tape, it looks like the score could have been the other way."

"They're a great defensive football team. They're physical, they're fast, they've got great corners that can cover, so we're going to have pick it up offensively to move the football with any consistency. Defensively, with [Yvenson] Bernard and his ability, now having [Sammie] Stroughter back, and the whole offensive front is back. A lot of those guys were there when I was there, so they're a good football team. We've got to correct some things. In order for us to win, we're going to have to play way better than we did against San Diego State."

Erickson pointed to team speed s being Oregon State's biggest asset on defense, as well as the heavy rotating in the front seven that helps keep its players fresh. "Then, their corners have been there for quite awhile, they play bump and run and they take a lot of things away from you. To me, it's probably as solid a defense as we'll see all year."

Oregon State WR Sammie Stroughter took what looked to be a season-long leave of absence due to personal losses, including those of family members and OSU assistant coach Jim Gilstrap. Ultimately he did come back and play briefly in the Cincinnati game, and showcased his talents in the Idaho State 61-10 win turning in nine catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns.

"Having him in the lineup makes a huge difference for them," Erickson remarked. "He's a proven player. He's been a big-play guy for them, not just catching the football in the passing game but also as a returner. So having him back makes them a way better football team in all aspects. He's a game-breaker. He can make a lot of things happen. He's done it. He did it the other night against Idaho State, and he's done it in the Pac-10 for a couple of years. So he makes a big difference offensively for them."

Thus far, Beaver signal caller Lyle Moevao was getting his fair share of snaps alongside starter Sean Canfield. Erickson believes that the rotation at this position has been set. "I think you'll see Canfield all the time now. I've watched all three games of them on offense, and watched the Idaho State game, and they've pretty much made a commitment," he said. "I certainly believe that was their intent when they started the season that Canfield was going to be their guy. Against Idaho State he executed extremely well and threw it really well and was much more comfortable, it looked like to me, than in the first two games. I'm sure that he's the guy that they're going to go with, in my opinion, but than can change too."

Eight, nine ASU defensive linemen have been rotating through out the team's first three games, and Erickson was naturally pleased that his squad was in a position to do so without experiencing a drop in performance. "They've all had their moments both ways, but we're able to play four and five defensive tackles and four and five defensive ends," Erickson noted. "That's just how we are. That's the kind of defense we have. We don't have a lot of guys that just jump out at you as a first-round pick in the NFL. So we have to play together as a defensive football team. We rotate linebackers in there also, rotate safeties in there also. We try to get a lot of guys in there and keep them fresh and play as a team, so we can fly around."

ASU's defense hasn't been showing a lot of blitzes this season, but Erickson contended that this wasn't due to not wanting to tip his hand and show multiple schemes before Pac-10 play began. "We had no intention of holding anything back. Whatever it takes us to win, that's the bottom line," he commented. "We're not a big blitz team. That's not what we are. We're a football team that's going to sit there and try to make people earn things. The biggest thing is that we want to make sure that we know what we're doing, and if we know what we're doing, then we play fast. We'll blitz and we'll bring six or seven occasionally, but we're not a team that's going to blitz every down. We're a team that's going to play more base defense than we would blitz."

Erickson was pleased with the reduced number of penalties last week, but cautioned that in some ways they're still a natural part of the game. "We're going to have penalties. The ones that can be easily prevented are the ones that you don't want to have, the hits that are really late or the celebration penalties or things like that," he stated. "We had them obviously in that second football game. But you're going to have penalties, and I do not want to hand-tie our football team as far as playing hard and playing aggressive. I do not want to do that. So we'll have a penalty or two, that's just how it is. But I feel like we've got the dumb penalties under control. They know what they can and can't do. Sometimes there are going to be close calls out there and I'm not going to hold to them to everything, but we've got to be able to play aggressively."

After three easy wins, it's only natural for some to wonder if those contests helped the coaching staff know how good their team is at this juncture and how they will fair in conference play. Erickson offered his own assessment.

"We've gotten better as a football team, from the first game through the third game. We're executing much better on both sides of the football. We're finding what our strengths and weaknesses are and then trying to take advantage of that," he said. "Offensively we're getting better because we're starting to learn the scheme a little bit better and finding out what our strengths are there. We've made a lot of improvement. Where we are in the Pac-10... I've said this before, I don't know. It's hard to sit down, because you haven't watched everybody play. We've played three non-league games, and so has Oregon State, and you don't know from week to week."

"I do know that this game Saturday is going to be by far the toughest game we've had. They're an experienced football team that's got a lot of guys coming back from the same team that beat us pretty handily in Corvallis last year. But it's a good challenge. I like our team. The work ethic has been great. They've done everything that we've asked. They play hard, and you can't ask for much more than that."

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