Devils Search for Answers As they Head to USC

With questions already surrounding Dennis Erickson's offense, the last thing it needed was an injury to senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter. With the Devils struggling to find a consistent rhythm to their offensive attack, the injury couldn't have come at a worse time. Erickson said Monday that Carpenter's status won't be known for awhile.

"First of all, we need to get the OK from the doctor, and then, see how he moves out there. I'm not going to put him on the field unless he has the mobility to be able to move and throw," explained Erickson, "He has to be pretty close to 100 percent. We won't know anything about that until time goes on, so it's really at the point that it really doesn't need to be discussed until we see how he progresses in the next three days."

"Knowing Rudy, he's tough, and if he plays, it's because he is tough. If he can't go pretty close to full speed, then like I said, I'm not going to put him out there. That's why we have backup players."

That backup player would be junior Danny Sullivan, who has yet to start a game in his three years in Tempe and has seen very limited action during his ASU tenure. Erickson doesn't know what to expect from Sullivan, mainly because he has only seen him in practice.

"A lot of times, you are one in practice, then another in a game. He's pretty physical and big. He has a strong arm, his feet have really improved since I have been here, and he gets it off," described Erickson, "Probably more than anything is that he really understands. He studies as much as any backup quarterback I've ever been around."

"Again, he's going to know what's going on. It's like anybody, it doesn't make a difference who it is, if it's your first start, whether it's a backup, or whether it's your first start your senior year, it's your first start," said Erickson, "So I mean, there are a lot of things, the speed of the game, all those different things, which he hasn't seen obviously, and it's going to be the first time that it happens to him. He's very solid and like I said, he throws the ball real well."

Sullivan's first start could very well be Saturday against one of the best defenses in the country and one of the toughest places to play, the Los Angeles Coliseum.

"Well, we talked a little bit about it yesterday," remarked Erickson. "That is what he has been working for. He's a very competitive guy. He studies, he takes turns all the time, he's prepared, and so it is just a matter of doing what you can do. Play within yourself, and obviously our game plan is going to include Rudy and him. We'll do the same thing."

"So, as I said, it's what he has been working for to go down and have your first start in a college game against USC is very challenging. There is no question about that, but I really like him. He is very competitive and he knows what we're doing, so if that's the case, he will do a good job."

Whoever starts behind center for the Devils will be going against a defense that is known for having great linebackers.

"Well, it's hard to prepare for something like that," admitted Erickson. "You have your scout team and you try to give it as much of a look as you possibly can. They are downhill players, they're physical and they are fast. We just have to try to emulate them a little bit and it's hard. It's like anything; you do things with the scout team, then all of the sudden it becomes Saturday, and it picks up a lot faster."

"We've gone against ourselves and obviously we do that 9-on-7 and it gives us a little bit of an idea of what it is going to be like. They're good football players and they have a lot of them, so we just have to attempt to have some sort of a scheme where we can get them blocked occasionally."

Erickson also noted that USC hasn't changed much on either side of the football scheme wise since last year. "They are very aggressive on both sides of the football," said the ASU Head Coach. "They came out last week against Oregon and threw the football with a great deal of success. Obviously they are pretty balanced and have a lot of skill at quarterback and wide receiver."

"Then, defensively, they are very aggressive. They are going to zone-blitz it and they're doing pretty much the same things that they've always done," stated Erickson. "I don't know why they would ever change because they have been really successful with it. That's what they teach. They are a very aggressive team that relies on being very physical and very fast. That's how they've been for about the last six or seven years. They haven't changed too much."

With all the parity and change in college football, USC's demonstration of consistency truly is miraculous.

"It's difficult. There aren't many programs that can do that," said Erickson. "Obviously they do a good job of coaching. They were 6-6 their first year, and then they started having success. They recruited hard, they have good players and they do a good job at coaching them. They have a system that they believe in and they stay with it. There aren't many like it. You look at all the teams in the country and there are some ups and downs in all of those programs; it's just the nature of the game. USC has maintained that level."

It will certainly be a tough test for a team that is coming off of a three game losing streak, but Erickson feels that his team is still focused and will be ready to go. The veteran head coach was pleased with the way his defense played after the first quarter Saturday.

"I thought our defense played well at times," he noted. "From the time it was 17-0, we all talked about that, we put ourselves in a hole, which we talked about all week and that's over and done with. From that point, defensively, we played probably as well as the defense has played since I've been here."

"We ran to the football, played very physical, very aggressive, created a turnover, did a lot of things and took the run away from them. They had a lot of trouble running the football and it gave the offense the opportunities in the fourth quarter to get back in and possibly win the game. I thought it was a good effort. The bottom line is we have to be consistent with that. We can't be physical and play well like that occasionally. We have to do that every week."

With ASU's offense struggling to produce much offense, Erickson knows that his defense will have to step up and make plays in order to win.

"Our defense has to really step up and play like that all the time for us to have opportunities to win football games," commented Erickson. "That's where we are at right now and they know that. I look for them to play well. They are playing outstanding offense front, a lot of skill this week, but I'm happy with what they did from the second quarter on last week."

Erickson says that the goal is simple for the rest of the year, continue to improve week in and week out and good things will happen.

"We are a team that has to get better all the time," explained Erickson. "We are where we are, so the biggest thing that we have to do, as a football team, is get better every week. In the next eight or nine weeks, however many weeks we have left, there are a lot of positive things that can happen to us. There are seven football games left. We just have to get better. I think that's the biggest thing."

"Continue to improve, continue to do what we believe in and continue to believe in being physical. Continue to try to run the football, continue to do the things that we as a coaching staff believe have been successful."

Even though they have lost three straight, Erickson knows that the team won't panic, because that would only make things worse.

"We just have to take our players and just continue to get better all the time. That's what we will do, there's no question about it," said Erickson. "It's a good group of guys. Unfortunately we've had some loses, but we still have confidence in ourselves, so we are going to just take it every week and see where we end up."

The players are still confident, according to Erickson. He knows that this is a lot of the same team that won ten games last season.

"It's not like they haven't won games," said Erickson. "The team believes, and we have to understand what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are, play to them, and win games. There is only one thing that cures this stuff, and that's winning football games, so we have to do that."

The Sun Devil skipper knows that starts tomorrow in practice and will continue for the rest of the season. As quickly as the season could turn around, it could spiral faster if his team doesn't maintain focus.

"They're focused. They know what they have to do in practice," stated Erickson. "Nobody likes to lose, nobody loses on purpose, and nobody makes mistakes on purpose. They just have to concentrate, which they have been."

"We had a good meeting on Sunday and we will have a good practice tomorrow. The thing that we have is that we have developed habits that I believe are good habits. As far as practice is concerned and preparing for games and so forth. We just have to keep that. We have to keep that balance and just keep doing it."

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