Devils expect ‘scary' USC team

With the Halloween game against Cal behind them, looks like the real daunting contest is yet to come for the Sun Devils. USC, who was trashed by Oregon last Saturday 47-20, will have a ‘scary' mindset according to ASU Head Coach Dennis Erickson who talked to reporters in his weekly press conference.

"Those things happen and they're still a great football team and a great program," Erickson said of USC. "A lot of teams have gone up to Oregon and had that happen and things just start rolling on you and it's tough, but that program isn't where it's at by not coming back and fighting like heck. They'll come in here and play their best game. (USC Head Coach) Pete (Carroll) will have them ready to go. They react pretty well when they get beat."

The Sun Devils skipper has been impressed with USC signal caller and true freshman Matt Barkley, who averages 246.7 yards passing a game, good for second in the Pac-10.

"He's a talent and one of the better young guys around," Erickson said of Barkley. "You take him and (Stanford QB) Andrew Luck and those two young guys are special and Matt is special. He's young and got a great arm, great release, he has tremendous composure. He's got an aura about him that all of the good quarterbacks have."

Erickson feels that even though Arizona State's next opponent has lost a lot of talent from last year on defense, this unit is as solid as it has ever been. It's led by Taylor Mays, the league's second best tackler, who Erickson called the best safety in college football.

"They've always had great speed; they run to the football," Erickson commented regarding USC's defense. "They've got a lot of young guys that are extremely talented and they haven't changed. They haven't changed what they do or how they do it. They attack. They are very aggressive and they are going to come after you with the six man rush, five man rush, bump you outside. It really hasn't changed."

While the loss to Cal, which came by a field goal with 21 seconds left in the game, was disheartening, the ASU Head Coach was encouraged by the overall effort his squad displayed on Saturday.

"Defensively we just gave up some things in the secondary," Erickson explained. "Our front seven played extremely well, but we just gave up some things in the secondary that were costly to us. I thought our offensive front has really done some nice things protection-wise; didn't run the football like we wanted too, but we threw it okay and I thought our special teams was as good an effort as we've had all year, in all areas of our special teams, coverage and so forth.

"It's just disappointing. When you lose a game you'd almost rather lose a game bad(ly) than lose one like that. It's just a tough feeling that we're dealing with. We know we're a pretty good football team; we've just got to get over that hump. We've got to win a game like that, which we did against Washington, but we've got to win more than one. Again, we're disappointed, but we have another chance this week."

After giving up 55 and 34 sacks respectively in the last two seasons, in 2009 the Sun Devils have surrendered just 12 sacks through eight games. Erickson attributes that accomplishment first and foremost to experience on the offensive line.

"We're a little older, a little wiser, and we're playing better," Erickson stated. "A lot of our stuff is play action pass, we have some six man protection which keeps the tight end occasionally and then really, Danny (Sullivan) is getting rid of the football, he's not holding the football. When that (football) has to come out, he gets it out and that makes a huge difference.

"Our technique is better. We're still young but we're getting better all the time and giving our Quarterback some time, but like I said Danny is getting the ball out pretty quick and that's the key. You'll have serious problems this week against USC if you hold that thing at all."

Injuries at wide receiver forced ASU to employ two tight end sets for most of the second half against Cal. It's an alignment that worked well against the Golden Bears and one that can could be employed extensively again versus USC. This scheme allowed true freshman Cameron Marshall to have his best game as a Sun Devil carrying the ball 16 times for 71 yards, taking advantage of the injury top starter Dimitri Nance.

"Cameron played very well and unless Dimitri (Nance) is full speed he will start," Erickson declared. "Dimitri went one series and just couldn't go anymore and Cameron came in when he had his opportunity. It's a matter of opportunities and what you do with opportunities, when you're a young player like that. (Cameron) came in and he's a hard runner, he's physical, he's got good speed and protected very well.

"Right now I've got to see how Dimitri is. He hasn't done anything not to be the starter, but Cameron is getting better and better all the time, so he'll play."

Another young player who impressed last Saturday, and also took advantage of an injury to a starter, was redshirt freshman cornerback Deveron Carr.

"I thought he played very well," Erickson said of Carr. "He played with no fear, he came out, he got up and bumped them. He's a heck of an athlete. The thing with Deveron is that he's never played it's taken him a little while to pick up the techniques, because athletically and speed wise he's got all that so we decided to play him on the corner when we recruited him and it's taken him a while but he's gotten better in the last month.

"You can just see a tremendous improvement. He's tough and so when Pierre got hurt we put him in. Coach Bray decided to put him in and we kept him in because he played pretty well, which is a pleasant surprise because (Cal) has some pretty good receivers and like I said he showed no fear."

Last Saturday wide receiver Chris McGaha achieved two milestones with his four catches for 76 yards. The senior became one of six Sun Devils to have caught more than 150 passes and he topped the 2,000 yard receiving mark collecting 2,047 yards. Erickson commented that McGaha has been a leader on this team on and off the field.

"He plays hard all the time," Erickson said. "He's mature. He's made a lot of big plays for us over the three years that I've been here. I can't say enough about him and I know he's disappointed like all of our seniors, and we're trying to get this thing going in the right direction. Chris is a good football player. He's a very deceptive player."

Erickson added that he could see McGaha playing in the NFL.

With Veterans' Day taking place in just over a week, Erickson was asked how former Sun Devil great Pat Tillman, who was killed while serving in the Army in Afghanistan, still impacts the program. Erickson stated that Tillman's impact is enormous to say the least.

"Our players, if they know about anybody, they know about Pat Tillman and his legacy," Erickson noted. "Young kids sometimes don't realize that, but they do with Pat. He's inside of our locker room, outside of our locker room, in his tunnel. So they are very aware of what he's done and what he did for our country. Our players are very aware of him and when it gets to (Veteran's Day), we'll talk about him."

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