Erickson Expects a Competitive Stanford Team

A team is often a reflection of its coach. Those who followed the NFL career of Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, including Sun Devil skipper Dennis Erickson, know all about his tough warrior mentality. Consequently, when watching film this week Erickson has certainly noticed the fight and relentlessness qualities in his next opponent.

"He's a great thing for Stanford football," said Erickson of Jim Harbaugh. "He's fired up, and he knows what it takes to win and be successful, and he's relating that to his players, and that's how they play. Offensively, he's done a great job with T.C. Ostrander; he's getting better all the time. As you watch them on tape, they are explosive. They're playing like his personality. They're a good football team, and they'll get better all the time."

Defensively, Erickson has noted the high intensity level the Cardinal are playing at. He feels that Harbaugh's background as a quarterback has changed Sanford's offense in a major way. Specifically, the vertical game is very prevalent thanks to talented signal caller T.C. Ostrander.

"I remember him coming out of high school, I was at Oregon State when he came out, was very heavily recruited," Erickson recalled. "They're doing some things with him right now that really give them a chance to win. They got a couple of wide receivers, you guys remember Evan Moore that played last year, that was hurt I believe. He's six-foot-seven, so they get him in one-on-one situations with smaller corners and they take advantage of that."

"Their running game has been very good. Anthony Kimble has played very well for them over his career and particularly now. Their offensive front really is a veteran offensive front in a lot of areas. Mark Bradford is an awfully good receiver. So they've got some weapons offensively and have scored a lot of points."

Not only are the Sun Devils faced with the task of playing a tough conference foe, but they also will have to deal with the elements of a road game for the first time in the 2007 campaign. "You just got to go play well on the road. To me, being on the road and playing on the road is something that's a business trip," Erickson remarked. "That's what it's about. It's not about vacation. It's not about a family visit or anything like that. It's about being focused on playing football. We're going to treat it as that."

"We've got to play good on the road. Every place that I've been, we've played pretty good on the road, because of how we look at it. In this league, it's hard on the road, like any place. We've just got to play well on the road and really focus on what's going on. There are things on the road that you've got to deal with. There's obviously noise in stadiums that you have to deal with, particularly offensively. So those are things that we've worked on before but we'll continue to work on as we prepare for wherever we're playing. It's going to be a challenge for us."

The ASU defense continued his fine play against Oregon State, which was manifested more than anything in forcing six turnovers against the Beavers.

"Our turnovers have been interceptions more than anything, so those things are created by playing good coverage, understanding what's going on as far our routes are concerned," said Erickson. "There were a couple of those interceptions that people won't notice where the guy was hit as he was throwing the football. Everybody can talk about sacks, and obviously sacks are very important. There's no question about that. But as you look at a game defensively, how much pressure are you putting on that quarterback. When turnovers occur in the passing game, a lot of time it's because of pressure or a guy was hit when he threw it, and that was the case twice the other night against Oregon State. We put pressure on him, and he was hit or had to hurry something in those situations, and our guys caught the ball."

Linebacker Robert James is the midst of a career year and his head coach surely didn't spare any praise from the senior.

"I've said this before, when we came in as a coaching staff and we watched tape of last year's football team, when he was playing and wasn't hurt, he made all kinds of plays," Erickson remarked. "He's blessed with a nose for the football, and he's blessed with great speed and acceleration. When you see great defensive players and great defensive teams, that's what they have, and he has all those things. He'll get better and better just because of the experience of playing. He played better in that game than he did in the first game, so I look for Robert to continue to get better every time we play."

Another player, albeit in a reserve role, that also had a solid outing last Saturday was safety Josh Barrett. The senior played 30 snaps on defense, and made a few special team plays, all while not being 100% healthy. "The problem with Josh right now is that he's got a pectoral injury that really limits how much he can play and it really bothers him," Erickson noted. "But he came in and played quite a bit on defense and actually played his best Saturday night."

The slow starts against Colorado and Oregon State are naturally worrisome to Erickson, even though they haven't cost the maroon and gold victories so far. "There are teams we fall behind to that we've got ahead on our schedule that can become a real problem," Erickson warned. "Nobody plans to start slow, but we have. Offensively, in both games, we've had opportunities to move the football with our first drive and haven't done that, and then we ended up punting obviously, and we all saw what happened there. I think to me it's more about trying to, when you have the football early in the game, you've got to get some first downs, and we didn't do that in either of those two games that we started slow."

One aspect that has helped the team rebound from sluggish beginnings and show resolve later in the contest, is the coaching staff. The majority of the various ASU assistant coaches worked together for so long which makes the task of making adjustments relatively routine.

"We pretty much know what's going on. We've seen a lot of things over the years. I don't know if that's good or bad, but we have," Erickson joked. "When people do certain things to us on either side of the football, we're able to go from A to B. We're able to do that on the sidelines, just because we've done it. Does it always work? No, but we're able to make those adjustments a little faster than maybe a new staff that hasn't been together. We think alike and know what we want to do in our philosophy of the game, not saying that that's the answer, but we know what we need to do."

The play of the offensive line is also a source of concern these days on the team. Protection hasn't been adequate for the most part, and the run blocking has had its ups and down. "We did not play like we're capable of playing. We didn't protect like we needed to, and we've just got to get better at it," said Erickson of the line's play against Oregon State. "The only way to do it is to just continue to practice. We've played better than that, and we will play better than that, but it was one of those days. What we did do in the offensive line though is that when we had to, we played well, at the end of the game. We picked up some things, they did some things different to us, and then we finally made some adjustments, and we gave Rudy some time."

When Carpenter didn't get that aforementioned protection, he was sent scrambling. Even tough the senior has shown that trait time and time again this year, Erickson believes that no opposing defensive coordinators really having a feeling of Carpenter as a scrambler. "He's not a Dennis Dixon [of Oregon] that runs 4.5 or somebody like that, or a [Jake] Locker up at the University of Washington," said Erickson. "But what Rudy does is he gives himself a second chance. To me, great quarterbacks give themselves a second chance. When there's pressure on them, they get out of the pocket and they make plays. As I said before, he's a competitor, he's got a big heart, and he's tough. He knows how to make plays."

Heart and toughness seem to be the prevailing attitude of the team in the last few weeks. As mentioned, the vast experience of the Erickson staff definitely helps the players deal with in-game adversity, but the ASU head coach has no problems giving the players much of the credit for the resolve they have shown in their two come-from-behind wins.

"The thing about coming back, we've been fortunate enough to make some big plays when we were behind in the passing game," said Erickson. "In both situations, we were not running the football very well. All of a sudden, you start making plays on offense, some big plays like we've been able to do, Rudy [Carpenter] and the receivers, then all of a sudden that picks up the defense. So now you get a turnover, and you have to have those to come back, because there are times where people are going to take things away from you, and if you're not able to make a big play and you can't sustain drives because of the running game and how they play it, you've got to make big plays."

"The players make plays, coaches don't make plays."

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