Given the fact that Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh was an accomplished NFL signal caller, and comes from a football coaching family, Erickson isn't the least bit surprised that the second-year head coach has quickly turned things around in Palo Alto.
"He's been around the game all his life. He's a competitor and that's how his teams play. A lot of time they reflect your coach," Erickson stated. The attitude from the time that Jim (Harbaugh) has taken over – it's been an unbelievable change. They're really a good football team so we're gonna have to be very well prepared. Obviously it's a Pac-10 opener and those (conference games) are the ones that count the most."
In reviewing Stanford's win over Oregon State last Saturday, Erickson noticed their physical manner in which they played on offense, in particular 6-1 232 running back Toby Gerhart who tallied 147 yards on just 19 carries in the 36-28 win. Gerhart, brother of Arizona State center Garth Gerhart, is not only physical but also has deceptive speed according to Erickson.
"He's just a very good athlete," said Erickson of the Cardinal running back who missed last year's meeting with ASU due to injury. "He plays on the baseball team and is just a big solid back. They got him and (Anthony) Kimble and it's a very good 1-2 punch. Gerhart really adds a lot to their team."
Not only does Erickson believe that Stanford's offense has greatly improved from 2007, but he stated that the Cardinal defense, the only Pac-10 to return all 11 starters, is a much different unit than they were a year ago. Stanford's front seven is the strength of this group.
"They're really aggressive, they play real hard," said Erickson. "Ron Lynn, they brought him in this year as a co-defensive coordinator. Ron and I have been friends for a long time, he coached for me at the 49ers our last year there. He's very good football coach and you can tell his influence over there. So, they're an improved football team too (on defense)."
The ASU contest will not only mark Stanford's second consecutive Pac-10 game, but also their second game overall in the 2008 season. Traditionally the Sun Devils have played their first conference game only after they completed their three non-conference contests. Erickson was asked if would have preferred to play one or two additional non-Pac 10 games before he delves into the conference slate.
"You play them when they're there," he replied. "I think it's good. We need to play a conference game and they're a great opponent coming in here…you don't have a choice when you play games anymore. You play when they schedule them."
In terms of his overall reflections about NAU game, Erickson reiterated that he was obviously more pleased with the first half of that contest compared to the second stanza. "I thought at times we played well, particularly the first 30 minutes of the game, and the first two series of the second half on both sides," he said, "…and then we didn't play very well. We made some changes, substitutions and kind of lost the intensity level of what we had going into the game and didn't play very well. Can it be corrected? Of course."
"We had a lot of young guys in there…you can do what you want scrimmage wise and you can do what you want on the practice field, but until you get into the game with 60 some thousand people in the stands when you're a young player – you're gonna make mistakes. We had some starry eyes at times. And we had some guys that did some good things too. Am I happy with it? No. Can we improve it? Sure."
Not only did Rudy Carpenter pass for 388 yards, his second highest total in his ASU career (his best mark being 467 in the 2005 Insight Bowl win vs. Rutgers), but he spread the ball among eight different receivers. Naturally, this is a testament to the great confidence the ASU quarterback has in several of his aerial targets.
"They've played together and spent a lot of time together this summer," Erickson noted. "They have confidence in each other. Rudy has a pretty good feel where they're gonna be. He's been working with Mike (Jones), Chris (McGaha), Kyle (Williams) and Kerry (Taylor), those four in particular, for a long period of time…it makes a huge difference. They made a lot of big plays the other day. And they have confidence in Rudy. Rudy threw extremely well, threw it accurately. He played pretty well and the receiving corps had a good day."
Even though the wide receivers unit is deep and rich in talent, the 6-4 211 Mike Jones, as he has many times in 2007, stood tall above the rest. "Mike played well," Erickson stated. "He's smart, and obviously has size. Probably the last half of the season going into this season, Mike has really come into his own in all aspects of the game. I'm not talking just about catching the ball, I'm talking about playing, giving 100% all the time, blocking downfield…doing the things great receivers do in all aspects of the game."
"He's done that and the young guys are learning from it. He's stepping up as a leader and doing everything that's asked of him at that particular position."
Chris McGaha played despite his foot injury and preformed well hauling in four balls for 58 yards. Erickson stated that the wide receiver was sore after the game, but didn't further injure his foot. "He'll be fine and I don't see anything continuing with it (injury)," said Erickson.
The availability of running back Keegan Herring and Shaun DeWitty on the other hand is still unknown. Against NAU Carpenter actually led all rushers, and Erickson quipped that as long as Rudy accumulated 200 yards a game he'd be happy if his quarterback did pace the team on the ground.
Erickson claimed that it was too early to determine if the team's running game would struggle the rest of the season, after playing just one game against a defense that presented an eight-man front.
"Obviously that's a conversation because it's one of the few things we didn't do as well as maybe people thought," he said referring to the 54 yards on 18 carries collected by the Sun Devil running backs. "But the reality is that they played an eight-man front, we were throwing the football pretty successfully…do we have to become better running the football? Without a doubt."
"If we were halfway through the season and not running the ball well, I'd have some concerns about it."
One of the new rules that went into effect in the 2008 college football season (which mirrors the NFL rule) is that a 40 second play clock would start at the end of every play, and a 25 second clock would start after an administrative stop (i.e. timeout, penalty, penalty, start or period, etc.). Erickson noted that this change was a seamless transition for him and the coaching staff during the season opener.
"We've done it before in the NFL," he stated. "We didn't have to call a time out because of it, didn't have to hurry plays in or anything like that. Really there are times where you look up and there's 27 seconds as opposed to the regular 25 seconds (which was the old rule). To me it's just something we have to get used to."
Another new rule in place in 2008, is after a player runs out of bounds and the ball is made ready to play, the official will start the game clock. Under the old rules the game clock would not start until the ball was snapped. This new rule doesn't apply in the final two minutes of the first half and the final two minutes of the game.
Erickson sated that he expected a bigger adjustment to that regulation. "With three, four minutes left in the half you try to save time," he explained,"...and the rule changes when it's under two minutes as far as a guy going out of bounds, because the clock starts a lot quicker."