Erickson Meets The Press
Nov. 14, 2000
(On Oregon in general) 'This is an exciting week for everybody involved - us, the University of Oregon, all of our fans. The Civil War, regardless, is a big game, now, with the situation the way it is, it's even bigger. It's going to be fun to play. This is what kids play football for, this is what you coach for, this is what you are fans for - to have this kind of opportunity to be involved in a situation like this. I know it's an exciting time for all of us and our players, and we're looking forward to starting practice today and getting prepared for Oregon.
As far as Oregon is concerned, you're not going 9-1 and winning every game in the Pac-10 without being a great football team, and obviously, they are. You can see the character of their football team, and any football team, in the close games you win. They've won their share of those and found a way to come out on top regardless of what happens. Whether they have injuries or whatever might happen, they've found ways to win ever since that Wisconsin game. That says a lot for their coaching staff and their players. Obviously, we've got our work cut out for us.
When you start on offense, you start with (quarterback) Joey Harrington. As I've watched him play for two years, he's the heart and soul of that offense, as far as I'm concerned. He's physical, he's tough, he's competitive, big, strong - all the accolades you can give. He, to them, is like (quarterback Marques) Tuiasosopo is to Washington. He makes plays. When the game is on the line, he finds a way to get things done. I just think he's an outstanding player. Maybe he doesn't look pretty all the time, and none of them do, but he finds a way to get things done. I have tremendous respect for him and how he plays that position. They've got people to go with him. (Tailback) Maurice Morris - getting him a year ago out of Fresno City College was a big coup for them. After losing Reuben Droughns, you come in with a guy like him who is an outstanding runner, has tremendous speed, can break the big one for you. He's a key to what they do. They get going with him in the running game, they run play-action pass and create a lot of problems. Their offensive front is playing very, very well. Sometimes the things that get overlooked for them are their two receivers, (Marshaun) Tucker and (Keenan) Howry. You start getting that running game going with Morris and (backup tailback Allan) Amundson, who's played pretty darn good, too, for them when Morris was out - and now you've got one-on-one outside with those two guys. They've made a lot of plays, lots of big plays. You look at the Washington State game, a relatively close game, and they hit `em on a streak for a touchdown. They've got a lot of weapons offensively, they believe in what they're doing, (head coach) Mike (Bellotti) does a nice job, (offensive coordinator) Jeff Tedford - who I've known a long time - does a tremendous job as far as planning is concerned. And they've got the weapons to go with it, so we're going to have to play outstanding defensive football against them.
'On the other side of the football, they're very similar to us. They play hard, they run around, they make plays, they have corners who can cover you man-on-man, (Rashad) Bauman is playing extremely well for them. I don't know who they'll put him on as far as we're concerned, but he can play man coverage and create some problems for you. (Cornerback) Steve Smith is playing very, very well for them. Their whole secondary is playing really well. (Middle linebacker) Matt Smith, to me, is kind of the soul of that linebacker corps that has been around a long time and is an outstanding leader for them. Their defensive front is playing really, really well, all four of them. They make a lot of things happen. They're very physical inside and have great quickness outside. When you start there with the front four, you can free those backers up and that's why they're so good on defense. (Defensive coordinator) Nick Aliotti does a nice job of mixing things up and mixing the front, moving those guys a lot, freeing those backers up. I've always thought he was an outstanding coach. I've known him a long time, and I know he'll have an outstanding plan against us.
'Again, it may get down to the kicking game. (Kurtis) Doerr is punting very well, (Josh) Frankel seems to be kicking the football extremely well coming into this. Howry is an outstanding punt returner. Special teams, in a game like this, is going to be a real key.
'It's like I said when I started this - you don't do what they've done and not be a really outstanding football team. When you're ranked fifth or sixth in the nation, depending on polls, you've accomplished a heck of a lot. It will be a fun game. It's a great challenge for us, but we're really looking forward to it.'
(On Oregon defensive end Saul Patu) 'He's got tremendous quickness and speed and he's got a motor that goes a hundred miles an hour. He plays with tremendous intensity. He creates a lot of problems. He's got the quickness like (OSU defensive ends) LaDairis Jackson or DeLawrence Grant. He's got great quickness, he moves around and makes a lot of things happen.'
(On the state of OSU's kicking game) 'Ryan (Cesca) has been kicking extremely well. He kicked four of them last week, and you know things are going well when you hit the upright and it goes in. I've been the other way on a lot of those.'
(On OSU being favored by oddsmakers) 'It makes no difference. I think we're favored because we're playing at home. We were underdogs last week. I don't think it makes any difference when the game is over Saturday, who is favored and who isn't. None of that goes anyplace. I'm sure it might be used at the other end, but it really doesn't make any difference.'
(On Oregon coach Mike Bellotti) 'Mike has done a tremendous job. I've mentioned this many times. We can all sit here, all the Beavers can sit here and you've got this rivalry and all these things, but as you look at it in reality - what Mike has done to build that program, and what everybody else has done starting with (former coach) Rich Brooks and (athletic director) Bill Moos and all the people involved there - they've built that program since Mike has been there to where they're consistent winners all the time. That's what we're trying to accomplish here. They've done it because of facilities. They've won games. Rich was involved in it. He had some good times and some bad times, but he built the foundation of that program and then Mike took it over and continued to build it. They made a commitment there as far as the center, the indoor facility, what they've done with the stadium, all those different things that have helped them recruit, which in turn has helped them win football games. They've built a foundation, and Mike's done a great job recruiting the kind of guys he likes in his program and the foundation that he has. I don't know that there's anybody in the country who has done a better job, to be honest with you.'
(After OSU's first two games this season, did you feel this team could be where it is now?) 'I thought we'd be 10-0, actually. (Laughter) I'll deal with 9-1. After those two games, you just didn't know where you were going to be. We just didn't play well. We were struggling in a lot of different aspects of it, and some of our players weren't playing very well that we thought would, for whatever reason. Then we played better against San Diego State and got some confidence back. Then the win over USC, which right now may not look like a big deal, but at the time it was a real big deal for us and the direction we were going. You start gaining confidence and win some close games, and stay fairly healthy, and things happen for you.
And our players have been very resilient through the year. I mention that because at the end of the season, we had to play two games on the road we had to win in beating Cal there and beating Arizona in Tucson, and that's not easy - which has been proven many times. Our players knew what they had to accomplish to get into this position and went down there and did what they had to do to win. Maybe they weren't pretty, but they were wins. Again, we're gaining confidence as time went on during the year. But to think we'd be 9-1 at this time - did you?
(Compare and contrast OSU quarterback Jonathan Smith and Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington) 'They're both the same size, so physically they match up really well. (Laughter - Smith is 5-foot-11, 198 pounds, Harrington is 6-4, 220) They're about the same speed. (More laughter) The thing they both have is that they're very competitive. They both understand the game, they both understand what they have to do within their own offenses to be successful. That's what it's all about being quarterback - get in your system - regardless of what the system is - understand that system, and do what you have to do in that system to win. They've both done that.'
(Does Smith provide any advantage in that matchup?) 'Rebounding? (Laughter) Again, they both do what they have to within their offense. I'll take Jonathan Smith any time for what we do, and they'll take Harrington any time for what they do. There's nobody I'd rather have going into this game than Jonathan Smith.'
(What has led to OSU's improved passing game in the second half of the season?) 'We started playing better at receiver. When we got Robert Prescott back, it helped because he adds a little bit more of a dimension. Chad Johnson completely improved and got better and better. We all knew he had the physical tools, but he's gotten better and better all the time. Jonathan started throwing the football better. He started throwing it more accurately and people started playing the run, and that gave us more one-on-one coverage that enabled us to throw the ball successfully.'
(On Smith's completion percentage this season) 'His percentage of completions early was real bad. I think the last six games, it's pretty good and he's improved a lot in that aspect of it. That's why they have that formula for quarterback rating - it's not just percentage or yardage you throw for. What's involved in that is interceptions compared to touchdowns. You look at that stat with him, and it's pretty good.'
(Can you compare the Civil War rivalry to other rivalry games you've been a part of?) 'They're very similar. Everybody has rivalries. You put them all at probably a different level as far as the rivalry, but they all mean the same. Montana-Montana State, when I was a player and coach there, was the most important thing in my life. When I went to Idaho as the head coach and we played Boise State and hadn't beaten them in 10 years, that became the most important thing because of that rivalry. The same thing when I went to Washington State and the Apple Cup, and Florida State and Miami. They all have their flairs and they're all different, but they all mean the same. Rivalries are the most important thing during a season, regardless of what the rivalry is. And then when you have the opportunity to play for something besides just the rivalry, like this game, it's even bigger. And that's what's going to be really fun about this.
'You don't learn about a rivalry, in my opinion, until you're there a year. You can go in and people can talk to you about this rivalry and that rivalry, but you don't learn about it until you get beat once and you have to listen to all that crap for a year. Seriously. And you players have to listen to it and you have to listen to it and put up with it. Then, all of a sudden, that rivalry becomes a little different ballgame. I learned a lot in the last year about this rivalry since we played them the last time.'
(As a player, what kind of emotions did you have leading up to Montana-Montana State?) 'When I was a player, because I was such a great player, I knew we were going to win. Just kidding - you didn't think I was a great player, did you? But, you know, it's the emotion - it's the most important thing. You've got to deal with people for a year in the rivalry, regardless. You've got friends involved who are in the other side, but you still have to deal with it. There's more emotion going into this football game than any other game. That's just how it is.'
(Is the low of losing a game like this greater than the high of winning?) 'The low of losing, period, is a lot worse than the high of winning. The losing lasts a lot longer than the winning does, regardless of the situation - for me, anyway. You lose a game during the season and it lasts a lot longer than if you had won one. That's just how it is.'
(Do you feel OSU's program has arrived, regardless of the Civil War outcome?) 'Well, I mean, I think 9-1 kind of speaks to that right now. I think we've made a pretty good turnaround here. Again, your program is only as good as the next time you line up, or the next year. We've all seen different teams over the years. As I mentioned when I first came here was, what we want to do is build a solid program that is competitive year-in and year-out. We've done that for two years. Now, we want to continue to do that down the road. Do I think this program is better than it was three years ago? Yeah.'
(Do you plan to watch the Washington-Washington State game as a team?) 'No. It doesn't do us any good. We've got to win this game, then the other thing takes care of itself. It doesn't do either us or Oregon any good unless we win this game. It would be a lot more fun if we win, watching that game. I wouldn't have to listen to my dad second-guess me for four hours.'
(On OSU's injury situation) '(Wide receiver T.J.) Houshmandzadeh is fine. We'll know more about (free safety Calvin) Carlyle today. He's going to try to practice and do some things, so we'll see where he is. Other than that, we're pretty healthy.'