Erickson Knows Significance of Rivalry Game

It all comes down to one week for Dennis Erickson and the Arizona State Sun Devils. Just a few weeks ago ASU was sitting at 2-6 and post-season play was a long shot. But after three straight victories and an NCAA-record setting defense playing well, ASU will put their season on the line in one of the most storied rivalries in football.

"This is a huge rivalry game," said Erickson. "So, for either team to win that one is probably bigger than any game, I'm not speaking for University of Arizona, but for us it's the biggest game every year, and has been forever.

"So, whoever wins that game has bragging rights for a year. Fortunately, we've been able to come back from 2-6 and win some games and have an opportunity that if we were to win this football game to go to a bowl game. That would be something special for us. The game itself is more than any bowl game you can go to, I'm sure for both teams."

Erickson was asked if it made any difference that both teams aren't exactly competing for Rose Bowl berths and are just fighting to make bowl games. The veteran coach recited the old cliché that you can throw records out the window when it comes to a game such as this.

"Anytime you're playing a rival game, like Arizona and Arizona State," said Erickson, "and obviously I've only been in it once and this is the second time, it doesn't make any difference what the records are or what you're playing for, it's a rivalry game and that's what it's all about.

"I've been in, fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of rivalry games in my career. When I played at Montana State, the Montana vs. Montana State game was as much to me as a Florida State vs. Miami game. That's just how rivalries are. That's why they make college football; that's what college football is all about."

Erickson has been to Tucson before during his previous coaching stops, but he knows it will be a quite different this weekend as he comes in for the first time as the man at the helm of the maroon and gold.

"It's a tough place to play," stated Erickson. "Obviously as you know, people don't go in there and play very well, because it's a hard place to play (at). That's what's great about a rivalry game, you do down there one year, you come back here for one, so it's fair for both teams. It'll be interesting, like all rivalry games are."

The previous two seasons, it was ASU knocking the Wildcats out of a bowl game, now the tide has turned and Arizona has a shot to ‘repay' the favor.

"If we win it, we go to a bowl game. If we don't, we don't and we don't deserve to, and that's just how it is," commented Erickson. "We're playing an awfully good team now, that's a good football team on both sides. They're a point or two away from being in the thick of a lot of this, and Mike (Stoops), as I've said before, has done a nice job over the last five years getting good football players in there from where it was. So, it's going to be a heck of a battle, but the bowl situation really has nothing to do with that."

Rudy Carpenter will make his 43rd consecutive start on Saturday and for the senior signal caller, hopefully not his last in maroon and gold. Erickson for one continues to be impressed by Carpenter's durability.

"To me, it's amazing. 42 straight starts; think about it, that's a lot of games," noted Erickson. "As much as we throw the football and as he did before, to hang in there through some good times and some bad times says a lot about him, a lot about his character.

"He means a lot to Arizona State, and Arizona State means a lot to him, probably is the best way to put it. He has had ups and downs in his career, like we all have. He's had successes and he's had some games where he wasn't as good as he wanted to be. He loves Arizona State and has given everything he has to Arizona State."

On the other side of things, Arizona also brings in an experienced quarterback, Willie Tuitama. Erickson sees similarities between both signal callers.

"Great competitor, a guy that has improved," stated Erickson concerning the Arizona QB, "I watched him play when I was at San Francisco, I watched him play the year that I sat out and then I watched him the last two years. "He's just a great competitor. He's a huge leader. You can tell he's a big leader on that football team. He and Rudy are very similar in that they are very competitive, they're both fighters and you can see why they move the football. He makes plays, he's smart, and I can't say enough about him."

In order to beat the Wildcats, Erickson knows that his offense must step up. While nothing will be drastically fixed overnight, the Devils will hope for the best and re-evaluate their offense after the season.

"It's a number of different things," said Erickson in regards to the offense's struggles, "I thought that the three weeks before this, obviously opponents have some things to do with it, but I thought that we were able to get the run going.

"We just couldn't get anything going, just no rhythm. We couldn't run it, we had guys open and there were just a number of different things. There was just not anything coherent that we were doing. Hopefully, we can be a little bit more consistent this week or else we're going to have a lot of problems.

"Obviously, when the season is over with, we have to re-evaluate what we're doing offensively and hopefully find out some of the problems. It's not just one thing or one person when you fail like that. Hopefully, we can do some things this week to get better."

One unit that has played very well in recent weeks is the ASU defense who carried the Devils through the Bruins and kept their bowl chances alive scoring four touchdowns and compensating for the offense's struggles.

"Scoring that many points, it's remarkable," said Erickson, "I haven't been around a performance where they score that many points. I've been around really good performances, where you've stopped them and done a really good job, shut them out, things like that, but to score that many touchdowns, I don't know that in my lifetime I'll even come close to being around that again."

The Devils will return to Kajikawa Practice field on Tuesday at 3:30 as they continue to prepare for their last regular season game.

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