Erickson Meets The Press
Nov. 7, 2000
(On Arizona in general) 'The last couple-three weeks, they've lost some very close ones. I look at them play and, again, it's like I seem to say every week - anybody can beat anybody. They're as good as anybody. You can look at them on video, and there's no difference between them and us and Oregon or Washington or anybody like that. They're extremely good on defense. They're running the football very well on offense. They play hard. They've got some injuries, but they're getting back to pretty good health. Last week, they had a chance to win the one (against Washington) in Seattle and they're just a darn good football team and a team that's right on the brink of becoming bowl-eligible, so there are some things for them to play for. Dick Tomey is a heck of a football coach.
'When you look at them offensively, you start at quarterback with Ortege Jenkins, who is a tremendous athlete. Athletically, he's very similar to (Washington quarterback) Marques Tuiasosopo as far as I'm concerned. He moves around and creates a lot of problems. They run the option, they do a lot of things with him and he creates a heck of a lot of problems. He can move around and make things happen when he does that. They've got a receiver named Bobby Wade who played last year who was one of the better players in the league - not just as a receiver, he's their deep threat - but also as a kick returner he creates a lot of problems. He returned a punt last week against that was a real critical one in a real critical situation. He makes a lot of things happen. Probably the strength of their offensive football team is their running backs. They play three of them. Clarence Farmer was their starter, and he's been hurt off and on, he's a freshman out of Texas, a great big guy who runs around and makes a lot of plays. Leo Mills played most of the time last week against Washington, he's an outstanding player. They're both about 220 pounds. Then Larry Groom is their third back, who played quite a bit last week. But they interchange them, they're all extremely good, all very physical runners. They ran the ball extremely well against Washington and statistically dominated the game. They're getting healthy in the offensive front. They're a football team that is going to run the ball right at you, they're a football team that is going to play-action pass and try to get Jenkins on the corner and create some problems for you. The last couple-three weeks, they've played very well.
'Defensively, they're the same as they've always been. There's not much difference. They're always one of the top two or three in our league. Their scheme is a little different than most of the schemes you see, they've been doing it for quite a while and they still do it and they do it better than anybody in the country. A lot of people try to copy them but really don't know the secrets of what they do with that defensive look. They're an outstanding defensive football team. (Defensive end) Joe Tafoya is one of the best defensive linemen - we seem to face them every week. But he's an outstanding football player who makes a lot of things happen. He and (defensive tackle) Keoni Fraser create a lot of problems for you up front. Their linebackers run around and make plays. The way they play their defense, the key is (inside linebacker) Lance Briggs, a guy they try to free up a lot to make plays in their scheme of things. He can create a heck of a lot of problems for you. What they do causes problems. You don't see it a lot, you've got to really be disciplined, you've got to be able to block different line stunts. They bring them from everyplace, they blitz a lot. Again, they're playing a little more zone than they have in the past, but it's almost like last week in that they're going to play some man coverage and they're going to screw you up in the running game some - you just have to be patient and continue to do what you've been doing, and hopefully get a big play or two against them.
'It's going to be a hard-fought football game. I've played down there before, in the desert. They get hopped up and ready to play. I believe it's their homecoming, so they're going to have a big crowd. This is a scary game. We've got to go down and play well, and obviously we've got a lot of things to play for. To get that ninth win is the most important thing, and to stay where we are. I know we'll have a good week of practice, we'll just go down and see what happens.'
(What went wrong for Arizona in the fourth quarter of the loss at Washington?) 'I guess I can put it pretty easily - Marques Tuiasosopo. He made plays. They ran the option and he made plays. When you talk about a player of his quality, that's why they're 8-1 or whatever they are. That's why they've won games at the end - the guy is an incredible football player. You can just put it to that. He ran the option, he broke a long one himself, he pitched it, he threw it - he did everything but sell tickets. He's an amazing player. Basically, that's what happened. Plus, Washington started playing better defense in the second half.'
(Will OSU cornerback Dennis Weathersby go one-on-one against Arizona wide receiver Bobby Wade?) 'No, we're not going to do that. If you do that, you kind of give away what you're doing defensively. Not that we won't put him on Wade, but we'll do some different things with him as far as that's concerned. A lot of it depends on Weathersby's health, he's been hurt off and on all year, so it's kind of hard to say `We're going to put Dennis Weathersby on him' and then all of a sudden he doesn't play - then you've really got problems. So you've got to have a couple of different plans.'
(Do you expect Weathersby to play?) 'Yeah, I do today, but things change as the week goes on sometimes. (Free safety) Calvin Carlyle, right now, is probably the only guy who won't play. Everybody else seems to be healthy going into practice this week. Calvin is still on crutches and we don't expect him to play at all, hopefully, he'll be back to play Oregon but that could be questionable, too, the way he's hobbling around right now.'
(On cornerback Keith Heyward-Johnson's play recently) 'He's playing better than anyone we have back there. You can talk about all these other guys, but Keith Heyward-Johnson has probably been the most solid player in our secondary. He's made interceptions, people try to go against him all the time and stay away from Weathersby or whatever their philosophy going into the game might be, and Keith has stepped up every time and made plays. He made one against Cal - they tried to throw a streak on him early in the half and we ended up scoring, and that was a big difference in the start of that football game. Keith's playing well. He's a senior who is playing as well as anybody on our team right now.'
(Is Heyward-Johnson getting more opportunity to make plays because people are going at him?) 'They're throwing to him, and they think they can go deep on him. The thing about Keith is, he may not be as blessed physically as some, but he's very smart and very technique-oriented and does what he's coached to do, and that's why he makes plays.'
(How did Calvin Carlyle hurt his ankle?) 'He was chasing the guy who was going for 80 yards, and that's normally what happens when somebody goes 80 yards - somebody gets hurt. Anyway, he was chasing him and a guy came and blocked him, and that's how he got hurt.'
(After nine games, can you talk about what you've seen of a pair of rule changes - the two-yard 'halo' around punt returners, and cutting intentional grounding?) 'I think the intentional grounding rule is a good rule. I like that, because it protects the quarterback and you need to do that in this day and age in football, because now he can just run out of there and throw it and not worry about holding it and so forth. I like that rule. The two-yard halo rule - something's got to be changed, and we're as guilty as anybody. Two yards is such a short distance, and you're coming down on a punt, and you've got a chance to make a hit on a guy, and it's hard to tell what two yards is. I'm not sure what the change should be, but to me it's a dangerous rule because ... if it's a five-yard halo or something like that, now you can tell the difference so now it's pretty obvious. Now, it's so close it's hard to tell - it's hard to tell what two yards is. I really have trouble doing it. The other thing is, it's a five-yard penalty, which might be even worse, because you come down there and you're not sure, you hit him and knock the ball out, you get a turnover, if you're within that halo, it's only a five-yard penalty from the spot. What the heck, take your chances. Something's got to change. To me, they've got to put a little more distance on the halo and they need to penalize you more if you do it. Other than that, that receiver is very vulnerable to getting hit. You go down there, and you've got a shot to knock him out, and - okay, sorry, five yards. To me, it's a very poor rule that's being administered right now. And we've been penalized way too many times on that. We have one the other day on Terrell Roberts, and it's the correct call, but he goes down and takes that chance, yet what happens behind him is they rough the punter which is an automatic first down, and the game's over. But he makes a dumb mistake and goes down and hits him. But the halo rule gives you the opportunity to do that, but you don't know what's happening behind you, too.'
(Who is your leader on defense right now?) 'We have a couple. I don't believe there's one. I believe (strongside linebacker) Darnell Robinson and (safety) Terrence Carroll are, but then (defensive end) DeLawrence Grant leads that front and (weakside linebacker) James Allen is very much a quiet leader because of performance. That's why it's a good group - because there's a lot of them. That's when you play pretty well, when you have a lot of them that are trying to accomplish the same thing.'
(Has the tailback rotation of Ken Simonton and Patrick McCall work out even better than you'd hoped?) 'There's no question. You can watch Pat during the spring, and he was hurt a lot of the spring, and you knew he had talent as far as running, speed, size, and all that stuff - but you didn't know how good he was going to be, because he hadn't played. But with his emergence and how he's playing, it's about as good a one-two punch as you can find in football right now. We all knew how good Ken was, even though he amazes me more and more all the time. None of us knew Pat was going to be as much of an impact player as he is right now.'
(How is Ken Simonton's health?) 'Ken is the same as he was last week and the week before. What happens to him is, he's got a groin and a hamstring, and these muscles tighten up during the week so he practices some but not a lot, and he gets into the game and he's pretty darn good through the first half. Then at halftime, he tightens up a little bit and he goes back in and he's a little tight and he doesn't feel like he's 100 percent. So Patrick goes in and starts playing, and Ken tightens up even more and doesn't go back into the game. It's not like it's a season-ending injury or something that will keep him from starting against Arizona, but it's how it's been this week. It's getting better all the time. He's better right now than he was a week ago at this time, so hopefully that will carry over to Saturday.'
(Is Ken Simonton faster than he was a year ago?) 'There are times that he sure looks like it, particularly the last two games when he broke a couple early and kind of ran away from people. I believe defenses underestimate his speed a little bit and sometimes don't take the correct angles, and he ends up outrunning them for a big play.'
(Is some of the increase due to not carrying the ball 30-35 times per game?) 'There's no question about it. I can't imagine how worn out he'd be right now if Patrick wasn't around, if he had to carry it as many times as he did a year ago at this time. But what did we carry it - about 40 times Saturday, and it was about 17 (Simonton) and 17 (McCall) as opposed to him getting 34. It's a big difference.'
(With a night game at Arizona, will you have a walk-through in the morning or do anything different?) 'We'll leave tomorrow and get used to it. (Laughter) We did the same thing at Washington and we did the same thing here (against Washington State). It's really not any different. It's not like this is the first time we're doing it. In the last two years, we've played more night games than probably most of the teams in this league. Last week, we had to get used to playing at 12:30. That's kind of the nature of where we are right now in the program. For some reason, we can't seem to get on ABC, so it's always a night game. But our guys like playing at night. Basically, what we do is - it depends. We went to a movie when we played at Washington, because they wanted to see that movie. The last one we played, we didn't, because there wasn't a movie we wanted to see. So we watched games, and we've got film and all that stuff down there available for them.'
(Why do your players enjoy night games?) 'They like playing on TV - most players do. They like people to watch them, so to me, that's the biggest reason. And, particularly at home, it's a pretty good crowd situation. But they know that they're going to be on TV, and that's exciting for them. I'd rather play at 12 noon - I don't particularly like to wait all day. But it's like anything in life - you deal with it. You're putting money in the coffer.'
(Do you watch games during the day if you've got a night game, or keep working on game preparation?) 'I do both. I enjoy watching games, because I kind of put myself in some of those situations. As a head coach you watch games and see how they operate on the sidelines and do different things. It's different. We played Washington State in a night game and we got ahead, and put the second group in and Washington State scored immediately and what's going through my mind is Arizona State-Oregon, because I watched that game earlier where, all of a sudden, you think you've got it and then you don't have it any longer. It depends on the game, I enjoy watching the game. But I go down and look at video, too, to try to split it up.'
(Will it be an advantage to you this week to already know how Washington and Oregon fared in the afternoon? Or does it matter, since you still need a win?) 'You just said it. It really makes no difference what happens in either of those two games, if they win, lose or draw, because we've got to win that game.'
(On T.J. Houshmandzadeh's season) 'T.J., to me, has been the most consistent of our receivers, without a doubt. He's had an impact as far as making plays, making big plays, catching the football, he's consistent - other than last week - as far as punt returning. He's playing as well as anybody in our conference, as far as receivers are concerned.'
(On Houshmandzadeh's improvement over last season) 'He understands what we're doing. He's more consistent catching the ball, running routes, doing all those things. He's just a way better receiver, overall. That's typical of anybody who comes into your offense for the first time - freshman, junior college player, whatever. The problem with T.J. is, I'm just learning to pronounce his last name and he's leaving. But he's playing very, very well for us.'