Erickson Anticipates Tough Environment

Stanford, in terms of an opponent and a venue to play in, was a breeze. Windy and inclement weather may await the Sun Devils this weekend, and the opponent, a team that ASU Head Coach Dennis Erickson coached for and against, is certain to pose more challenges. In his weekly press conference Erickson talked about his team's upcoming match up at Washington State and other team matters.

"The atmosphere at Stanford is not near like the atmosphere that we're going to face as an opponent in Pullman." Said Erickson. "It's a good place to play when you're the coach at Washington State and it's not a good place to play when you're not, so I've been on both sides."

Erickson pointed to the "boisterous crowd" as being a big part of the tough atmosphere at Martin stadium. The fact that it will be the Cougars' homecoming game, can only add to the decibel level on Saturday afternoon. Additionally mother nature can always play a part as she often does.

"We're not worried about it, but we've also got to be aware of it," Erickson remarked. "It's the reality of playing on the road. All those things combined, it's a tough place to play. A lot of people went up there with pretty good football teams and come out not with victories. We just have to focus, concentrate on what we have to do this week in practice, understand that there may be elements, understand that the crowd's going to be tough, obviously they'll be very tough on me, and then just don't worry about it. Try to take that stuff out of it and just get ready and play."

Erickson is looking forward to coaching against two of his former players at Washington State. Timm Rosenbach is coaching the Cougars' quarterbacks while Steve Broussard, an All-American running back, in his charge of the running backs. "Of course I converse with them a lot anyway, so to go compete against them, it will be interesting," Erickson noted. "They've both turned into outstanding coaches. I'm very proud of what they're doing, so it will be exciting."

In terms of current Wazzu players, quarterback Alex Brink and wide receiver Brandon Gibson are two Cougars that have impressed the Sun Devil skipper. "I've followed Alex Brink for a lot of years, ever since he came out of high school in Eugene, Oregon. I've watched him grow just because I'm a football fan," Erickson commented. "He's gotten bigger. He's gotten stronger. He can throw it. He's, in my opinion, one of the better quarterbacks in the country. He gives himself a second chance. He's got a lot of mobility, very accurate, good arm. The offense that they run, they spread you out."

"Besides Gibson, they've got [Michael] Bumpus, they've got some skill to be quick-striking, which Washington State's been for a long time. They do a lot of the same things that we do, a lot of the things that we did years ago that we still do. So they're very explosive. As I said earlier, we have not faced a team offensively that's near as good as them, so it's going to be a huge test for us on defense."

The ASU head coach was naturally pleased with the road win at Stanford, and was extremely pleased with the play of the defense that has improved considerably from the beginning of the season. On the other hand, he acknowledged that his defense hasn't been heavily tested yet and believes that's about to change this weekend.

"We will (be tested) this week obviously with Alex Brink and Washington State, all the weapons that they have," said Erickson. "…obviously, for this football team, every week is a new week. We just have to continue to improve and get better. Our schedule gets harder and harder as we get into it. Playing up in Pullman, I know how that is, having been on both sides of it. It's probably as difficult a place as there is to play in the Pac-10, so we're going to have play as well as we can to win the football game."

Erickson feels that the low number of mistakes in defense, is a result of that group successfully grasping scheme and executing it correctly. "We can add things to our package because we've gotten better and learned what we were originally taught in the base package and what we're doing," he said. "We just have to continue to improve and get better all the time. Again, we're playing a lot of guys on defense, particularly in the front, which keeps guys fresh and that makes a big difference."

Indeed, the front four for the Sun Devils had their best game of the year in their last outing. Not only did they hold Stanford to -2 yard rushing, but also recorded seven sacks against the Cardinal. "…we were able to get to them, and they were throwing the ball down the field a little bit more than others have in the past, so you've got to hold it a little bit longer, and our rush was better, there's no question about it. Dexter Davis brought it pretty good. We brought `backers a little bit more, not blitzing-wise, but in zone blitzes, and we were able to put pressure on them with that."

Erickson was also pleased with the play of defensive tackle Saia Falahola who played in his first game of the season after rehabbing a tricep injury suffered during fall camp. "He played pretty good, for [his first game]. He went in, and for not playing and being out as long as he was, I thought he did some darn good things. He'll continue to get better all the time."

The ASU offensive line did give up six sacks against Stanford, but most of them were in the first half. Ultimately, their second half play was much improved and helped the offense score 20 points in the last two quarters.

"We made some adjustments, and we just started playing better," Erickson explained. "It wasn't all the offensive line (on the sacks). I think guys have a misconception of that, that when there are sacks that it's always the offensive line. That's not necessarily the truth. It could be a back. It could be holding the ball. It could be a blitz that because of whatever call; it might be a hot throw. So there are a lot of things involved in that, and our offensive front, we've had some sacks, we've made some mistakes, but we're playing pretty good."

"We're running the football really well. We're being very physical. Again, you're going to have sacks. That's just part of the game. You'd like to go through a game without any. But it's a combination of a lot of different things, and we just have to clean that stuff up."

Erickson strongly believes that his squad needs to improve in all areas. It's hard for him to state whether the team has met his expectations for this point of the season, and again he points to the need for constant improvement for his team as the recipe for long-term success.

"I just know that if we continue to improve, and continue to practice like we've been practicing that we'll get better and better all the time," he said. "Where that takes us, you just don't know. But as long as we improve, and as long as we work hard practicing, and we play hard on Saturdays, good things are going to happen to you. That's basically what we've been doing. Where we're at to where I thought we would be, I always expect us to be good. I always expect us to improve, and we've done that."

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