Erickson Ready to Move On to Pac-10 Play

The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for Arizona State and head coach Dennis Erickson. It gave the team and more importantly the veteran head coach a chance to step away and regroup for Pac-10 play.

"This is a good group. They are no different than when we started the season. Unfortunately, we lost a couple games and now the resiliency of our players and coaches is going to be tested," said Erickson, "That is exactly where we are at right now. Sometimes it is very difficult to realize for us as coaches and as players, and for you as fans, that we have eight games left."

"It is not the end of the world at this point. We have a lot to play for. We did a lot of work on that bye week to get better, because we are just starting our league and that's what it is all about. It was good preparation, and our players realized that."

What lays ahead starts with the Devils first road game at a very good California team on Saturday.

"They realize what is ahead of them," remarked Erickson, "and we are going to practice well this week and see what happens this Saturday against Cal, one of the best football teams in our conference, and our first game on the road. So, we have a lot of challenges ahead of us."

Erickson knows that any Jeff Tedford coached team is going to be a stiff test for his defense. The Bears boast one of the top offensive lines in the conference and go two-deep at the quarterback position.

"First of all, they are very well coached on both sides of the football," noted Erickson. "Jeff Tedford does a great job with a very innovative offensive mind. Their offensive front is probably one of the better ones we have seen and faced. Their center, Alex Mack, is probably the best center in football and I am sure he'll be a No. 1 pick a year from now. They run the football extremely well."

"They went to Maryland and didn't start real well, but dominated the game in the second half. So they're a good team."

Something that will help ASU's defense is that Cal star running back Jahvid Best, the third leading rusher in the Pac 10, will miss the game with a dislocated elbow. Erickson spoke of Best at the press conference, before it was known that he was out for Saturday's game.

"He has better speed than anybody," said Erickson. "He won the state 100 meters in California. I think he ran 10.3 or some gaudy number, so he just has great speed and accelerates through holes, catches the football, returns and he is an extremely good player."

Defensively the Golden Bears have a new look. Gone is the traditional 4-3 defense and Tedford is utilizing Cal's linebacker depth by using a 3-4 defense.

"They've changed their philosophy," stated Erickson. "They were a 4-3 team and because of personnel, they are now playing 3-4 and they have guys who play extremely well. Zach Follett has been there for a long time and he is a heck of a player, as well as Worrell Williams."

"So, they have some good football players and good down guys that play very well. I think they lead in our league against the run. They're a good football team. You look at them year in and year out over the past five or six years in our league, and they are one of the top teams, so we have a huge challenge ahead of us."

Cal leads the Pac-10 in rushing yards allowed average, only allowing 2.5 yards per carry this season. That does not bode well for a Sun Devil team that has struggled to run the football all season. Erickson says the struggles come down to not committing to the run game.

"Against Georgia we didn't run it. It's that simple. If I had a do-over, if I had a mulligan, I would just go in and run it more to give us a chance to run," said Erickson, "I don't know if it has anything to do with anything other than saying, `let's make a commitment to running it more,' and we are going to do that now. How successful we are really depends on, not how many yards a game that you run it, but that you are physical and those kinds of things."

Erickson acknowledged that it was a mistake when preparing for the Georgia game, to have the notion that his team won't be able to run it against the Bulldogs. That's a mistake that the team won't repeat.

"It's just about doing more and believing in what you're doing," explained Erickson. "Obviously we have to get better up front, but it's harder to run the ball if you don't run it. We made an effort last week to run it more and to give our guys a chance to do it, so we have to balance our offense out. That doesn't mean we are going to run it 40 times a game by any means, but it does mean that we have to be somewhat effective running the football."

Improving the offensive line is something that already has taken place with a change at right tackle. Adam Tello will no longer be in the starting lineup and currently Tom Njunge is leading Matt Hustad to start at the role. Nonetheless, the battle will continue this week.

"We haven't made a decision," said Erickson. "If we were going to start tomorrow, Njunge would be the starter, but Hustad is pushing him. There are a lot of different options. We've played Shawn Lauvao out there and he's pretty good. We haven't made any decisions on what we are going to do yet."

Zach Schlink will also see his name thrown into the ring as Erickson said that he is the primary back up at both guard spots.

"He is going to play. He's backing up both at right and left guard, so he's our third guard. He played on a PAT and field goal," mentioned Erickson, "We had to solidify that up a little bit too from another game. It's amazing what you learn as you play. Zach will be our first substitute in at guard, so there is no way we can even consider redshirting the guy. He'll end up playing and helping us."

Omar Bolden has struggled at times this season, adjusting to becoming the number one corner. Erickson was asked, in his opinion, if the sophomore was playing as well as he was last season.

"At times he has," replied Erickson. "He's probably not having the year he had a year ago, which doesn't mean anything, because he has a huge challenge ahead of him right now. We have to do a better job of getting him into position so he's more comfortable, but again he is playing OK. He's not playing and being as dominant as he was a year ago, but obviously that can change and hopefully it does."

"Guys like that are competitive. Guys like Omar Bolden, who have been great players, and still are great players, are very competitive. The reaction that I see from guys like that is that they come back and get better and better because that is the kind of athlete they are. He is one of the best and he will get better all the time and work on whatever it takes to play better. He is just so competitive and every player that I've had like that has reacted the same way."

Erickson was asked about another member of the secondary, Clint Floyd. Erickson had nothing but praise for the true freshman safety.

"Clint is a football player," said Erickson. "I guess that is the best way to describe him. You look at him on special teams and he makes plays all the time. You look at him at safety, he's probably not as big as you want him at this point, but he's always where the ball is and he always tackles well."

"He's really a great athlete. I got sold on him when he went to Crenshaw High School in L.A. I watched him play basketball and when you start for Crenshaw High School in basketball, you're a pretty good athlete. He just has that athletic ability, which is I guess the best way to put it. He just has a feel for the game."

Two key players' statuses are still up in the air for the trip up to Berkeley. Linebacker Gerald Munns is still dealing with personal matters and will not practice on Tuesday and his status for the game is unknown.

On the other side of the ball, it is looking more and more likely that Keegan Herring will play this weekend.

"Keegan practiced yesterday," Erickson noted. "I wouldn't say he is 100 percent, but he is getting closer. I would anticipate him playing in the football game."

The Devils will return to the practice field tomorrow evening at 6PM.


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