Strong Stretch Arrives for Erickson, Devils

Much like the majority of the Sun Devil nation, ASU Coach Dennis Erickson realized that the 2007 schedule could bring a 7-0 start. A schedule front loaded with a handful of home games, and very winnable contests did pan out as expected. Yet, there's no doubt that the next four games for ASU will pit them against the toughest teams in its league. Erickson is well aware of the challenges ahead.

"I've never been around a stretch like that, but I knew that going into the season," said Erickson in his weekly press conference. "You look at where you're at going in to start out with, and you look at the last five games on the schedule, we knew what we were getting into and we knew how the schedule was. That's not going to change… that was just the nature of the schedule."

"We all talked about having five games at home in our first seven. It was a pretty darn good deal, and now I'm not sure as I go into the next one. We're going to get tested. Our team knows that. We're very realistic about where we're at and the direction that we're trying to go in."

The undefeated record brought the expected respect in the national rankings. The Sun Devils are ranked fourth in the BCS and are in the top 10 of most of the other major polls. Erickson for one isn't overly excited about those accolades.

"Obviously you see them and our players see them. We're seventh here and fourth here, I can't ever figure out all that – I was never good at math," he quipped. "In all seriousness, for us, what happens this week and the week after that and the week after that and the week after that, the next five games are going to tell where we end up. I'm happy we're 7-0. I'm happy that we're recognized. As we started out the year, I told our players we just have to get to 1-0, then we have to get 2-0, and that's all we've ever focused on here. That's all we're focusing on now, to try to win our eighth game somehow and then go ahead and go from there."

Thus, all the ASU focus this week will be on a Cal squad that Erickson calls "one of the best teams in the country", and in no way does he believe their two consecutive loses is any indicator to their current level of play. "When you put tape on and you watch opponents, you have a pretty darn good idea who they are," he explained. "Tape doesn't lie on California. They're an extremely good football team, and obviously they can't afford to lose another game in the league if they want to have any opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl. So we're going to have play pretty good, I'm afraid."

Erickson noted the many weapons the Bears have on offense and the challenges they present. "DeSean Jackson is one of the most explosive players I've ever seen in college football, not just as a receiver but also in the return game," Erickson commented. "He creates a lot of problems. You've got to be aware of where he's at all the time. He's a guy that just can break a game open any time. He's a real key, but they've got a lot of weapons."

"[Nate] Longshore will be back, he was back but now he is back 100 percent. His ankle was bothering him, as you could tell if you watched the game. He's an experienced guy that creates a lot of problems for you, and then, [Justin] Forsett, obviously at running back. Maybe something that goes unsaid is their offensive line, a very dominant group. Their center [Alex Mack] is really a good player, one of the better centers I've seen. Jimmy Michalczik coaches the offensive line. Jimmy played for me at Washington State and coached for me at Oregon State, and he does a great job of coaching. They all do, obviously Jeff [Tedford] has proven himself time and time again. That's what fun about this. Their offensive front is really good."

The Bears' defense is one that is very physical according to Erickson, and is focused on stopping the run with a formidable front-seven. "Coach [Bob] Gregory does a nice job with their defense. He was at Oregon. I've faced his philosophy before. They're going to come up and stop the run, and then force you to throw it, and they're good in the secondary," said Erickson. "So, it's going to be a real challenge for us offensively. Obviously, we've got to be able to run. If we can't run it, we've got some problems to keep them off balance. Hopefully, we can make some plays in the passing game. That's going to be a real key to having some success against them."

Erickson mentioned that WR Mike Jones is cleared for contact and should play on Saturday. On the other hand, the availability of TE Brent Miller is up in the air for this week, and will probably be determined much closer to game day. "I would say for sure the week after that he would be ready to go," Erickson added.

Coming off a bye week, Erickson stated that he tries to get back to the regular schedule. One unique aspect that took place on Thursday of last week was the extensive work the scout team members and walk-on saw in practice. Everyone seems to have his own theory whether a bye week does more harm than good for teams. Erickson thinks that you can't have a definitive answer to that question.

"When you've been doing it as many years as I have, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," he said of a team playing well following a week off. "I know one thing, you're healthier and you've got a little bit more energy. Some say, timing, did you lose your timing during the week? If you've been going for seven weeks and playing seven games like we have, I think you have less of a chance of that happening. If you had the bye maybe after the third or fourth week, it would be maybe a little bit different. But if you can make it to the seventh week or through the seventh week and have a bye, it's a pretty good time to have it….I'm sure we all can answer that question Saturday night about 11:30 or 11, whenever the heck the game ends."

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