Erickson Meets The Press
Sept. 24, 2002
(On Southern California) 'They're an awfully good football team. It's a football team that's very, very athletic and (head coach) Pete Carroll has done a great job of coaching them, getting them going in the right direction. They've always had great athletes and now they're being coached really, really well.'I look at them defensively and speed's the name of the game. They probably have the best front seven we might see all year. Shaun Cody as a defensive tackle probably is as good as we'll face and one of the better ones in the country; he's only a sophomore, we faced him as a freshman last year and he's a dominating force, he makes a lot of plays. Troy Polamalu is their strong safety, an All-America candidate, All-Pac-10, probably one of the better players in the country and a huge factor on defense as far as making plays is concerned, and the leader of that defense, very physical. But the thing that really impresses me is how they're playing defense. I don't know what they are in the country, but they're running around, getting to the football, very similar to us speed-wise; I think we're very comparable. Their defensive ends can run, their linebackers can run. Nobody's really moved the football against them; Kansas State did a little bit with option - the score (27-20) really wasn't indicative of what happened defensively if you watch the video. They're just an outstanding defensive football team.
'Offensively, (quarterback) Carson Palmer is having a great year. He's a very talented young man who can throw it; you watch him throw it and he throws it as well as anybody I've ever seen. He's big and he can run. He made a play against us last year in overtime where they ran a naked bootleg and he just took somebody on and got it in the end zone to win the football game. (Offensive coordinator) Norm Chow is doing a great job with him, it's his second year in this offense and Norm's been successful wherever he's been - but he really understands, it's going to the right places. He's just an outstanding player. The thing that's happened to them that hasn't the last two years we've played them is, they're healthy at running back. Sultan McCullough is healthy, and we all know how fast he is; he's been making big plays for them in the running game. But all their running backs are playing real well. They're very impressive up in the offensive line, very athletic, they've made great improvement there. (Keary) Colbert, Kareem Kelly at wide receiver - Kareem's got great speed, as we all know, as a return guy. They just make a lot of things happen.
'By far, it's the best USC team we've seen since I've been here - not even comparable. They're way better than they were a year ago. They had a tough loss at Kansas State, which is a very difficult place to play. They're going to be right in the middle of it. For us, it's the test now that we're in the league. We've got eight games in the league, we have to open up in the Coliseum against USC - I know our players are very excited to go down there and play, we're excited as a coaching staff. It's going to be a great challenge, but it's going to be a lot of fun, too.
(What challenges does Carson Palmer present compared to other quarterbacks you've seen this season?) 'He's got a huge arm, a big-time arm. He can put it into places where I haven't seen anybody put it in a long time as far as throwing it into defenses and holes. And the other thing is, he's very athletic and very physical. He's got great feet, he can scramble and create problems for you in that way. It's like I said, last year he made a huge play running the football at the end of the football game. To me, he's a number one pick in the NFL, a first-round pick, no question about it. That's the kind of talent he has. The other thing he's got going is, he's got a running game to go with him now that's very impressive. Those receivers, they've been in that system now for their second year - they're just executing much better than they have. They're a problem; it's the biggest problem we've faced on defense, without a doubt.'
(Do you feel Oregon State has played a complete game yet this season?) 'I don't know that anybody can ever say that. You can go through a whole season and not have all the facets come together - that's just hard to do. I thought this last week we played well in a lot of areas. We ran it better; I thought our special teams played real well in this last football game, which is something we were hoping would happen - not just as far as the kickers and punters, but our cover teams and return teams. But as far as everybody putting it together at one time, I hope I see that before I quit coaching but I don't know that I ever will - that's hard.'
(You'd been counting the days since the 2001 loss to Fresno State. The same with the 2001 loss to Southern California?) 'It hurt because we lost six games; if I had to count from every one of those games, that's all I'd do - be counting. But the thing that hurt about that game is, when you lose a game that's that close and you miss a couple kicks ... but any time you lose a close football game, as a coach you go back and there's a thousand things you can think about in your mind: If we would have done this, if we would have done that, the game would have been different. That's what stands out to me about that USC game. The thing that they did is, they hung in there and made plays at the end and we didn't. Not really, I haven't (counted); then I'd have to do it with UCLA, I'd have to do it with ... when you have a rough year, it's hard to do that.'
(Has too much been made of Oregon State not winning at Southern California since 1960?) 'It just tells you that they've been pretty good and we haven't. We haven't won since ... when? 1960? That's a lot of years. I think I was born, but just barely. Let's look at the history since 1960; USC's been to national championships, so that doesn't surprise me. Yeah, that factors in, our players are aware of that. The biggest thing is that it's a Pac-10 football game on the road, and we like to feel that we have an opportunity to compete for the Pac-10 championship and so it would be nice to go down there and play well. That's more important than we haven't won sine 1960.'
(On OSU wide receiver Shawn Kintner's play this season) 'Shawn's really made some plays for us. He made a big play against Fresno State in the end zone; that was a tremendous catch and he made a big play. That's not exactly where it should have been thrown, but Shawn came up with a big play at a critical time. And what it did was get Derek (Anderson, OSU quarterback) on track, too. Shawn's been playing well this year, doing what we ask, he knows what his role is like everybody on this football team. He's been making plays and doing what he's very capable of doing.'
(Are you surprised at how far OSU has progressed by this point in the season? Is OSU further along that it was at this point in 2000?) 'I wouldn't say that. I always say this - you're never as good as you think you are or as bad as you think you are. That's a very true statement. None of us in this league know how good we are; I don't believe anybody knows how good or bad they are. We will find out as this league starts and all these games start taking place, because this league is going to be a difficult league. You'd better win games at home and you'd better sneak a few on the road. As we get into the league - it may not be this week or the week after - somebody will emerge, or two or three teams; I'm not sure who they are and I don't know that it's even us. But we'll find out more about the Pac-10 and everybody starting this weekend.'
(On OSU's team chemistry) 'The team chemistry - that's always important. Team chemistry is always good when you win; that's just how it is. But I like the team that way. We're probably young at some positions. They seem to be having a lot of fun playing the game. We have a lot more what I call 'gym rats' on our team - guys who hang around, to who it's real important that things go well for them. They seem to get along. Again, chemistry is great; you lose a football game, then you find out what you're chemistry is about. We'll find out, I'm sure, as time goes on. It's a group that has been around together - when you've been around four years together like we have, you probably begin developing more team chemistry.'
(Going through the offseason, was the USC game a focal point as being a huge game early?) 'I don't know that that's true. We looked more at the first part of our season, which our first goal, going into the season two years ago and three years ago - I don't know it was quite as much last year - was to be 4-0, to win all of our non-league games. One you accomplish that, now you go into conference play. Now your second goal is the success you have in conference play. Sure, we know that we're playing USC on the road to open the conference schedule; I don't know that was quite as important going into the preseason as what we did in the first four football games. Our goal is to get momentum going into that game. Of course, we play the two LA schools right out of the chute; I don't know if that's good or bad. I think where you play has a little to do with it, but I don't know if it was USC as much as just trying to get a good start and win those first four football games.'
(Is starting Pac-10 play against a contender on the road a good thing?) 'I don't know that anybody you would play is not a contender in this league right now. I wouldn't know who's going to win this thing; I know that USC is one of the better teams in our league. We don't have any control over who or where we play. To me, our players - and I as a coach - enjoy playing in Los Angeles in the Coliseum. It's just kind of a fun place to play.'(On Oregon State's players from the Los Angeles area) 'It's fun for them to go home and play. A lot of times, you go to places like that where you have a lot of family and so forth, and they need to focus on why they're down there. It's important because they want to play well in front of their friends and family, there's no question about that. But they've also got to understand it's not a social trip.'
(Is USC's tougher non-conference schedule an advantage?) 'There's no question they've played some teams; a lot better teams than we have, for the most part. Whether that prepares them better or whether it doesn't, we'll find out. They had Auburn, who is awfully good, at home and that's a good win for them; then to beat Colorado on the road is a good win for them, as we saw last week. And Kansas State is awfully good. I've looked at that an awful lot of times in my coaching career, and sometimes it's an advantage and sometimes it isn't.'
(What is it about the Coliseum and USC's football tradition that makes you like playing there?) 'You just said it - the tradition that's involved at the University of Southern California. I'm a football historian, being around it as many years as I have ... I've seen a lot of games at the Coliseum, I've seen that white horse go around that track a lot of times - way too many times, sometimes when I was coaching the other team. Just the tradition at the University of Southern California, and playing at that venue that is traditional. It's fun for me, and for the players, too - even more so for the players that get an opportunity to go play in front of their people, and that's important.'
(Do you remember the first game you coached at the Coliseum?) ''Fraid so. We played USC down there in 1987, I believe, when I was at Washington State and Larry Smith was the coach at USC. We got it handed to us. That's when the horse ran around, and it ran out of breath about the third quarter.'
(How was USC able to hold Colorado to 61 yards rushing? More physical? Faster?) 'All of the above. USC was physical, they ran the football - they just pretty much dominated them for whatever reason. I don't know that there's a reason. Colorado didn't throw the ball real well; they had a new quarterback at the time who hadn't played, which had a little bit of an effect. But they're good against the run; they've been good in all three games, really.'
(Any difference in preparing this week because USC lost last week and may feel a little more urgency?) 'At this time of year, regardless of what's happened in the non-league games, there's always a sense of urgency when you start the league, because it's the start of league more than anything. Regardless of if you lose a game or two, if you don't lose any in the Pac-10 you've got a chance to go to the Rose Bowl. To me, every team that's playing in the Pac-10, whether it's this week or next week when they start, there's always a sense of urgency. Both teams are going to be ready just because of the nature of the Pac-10.'
(How important is the national television exposure OSU has gotten this season?) 'Playing on national TV is very important. It's very important for us financially at this university, without question, as far as balancing the budget and getting that stadium (expansion) built and all the things we need to get done here. And then the exposure we get throughout the country, recruiting-wise, when you're successful or even if you're not and you're on TV, it's huge - when you call recruits and talk to them after a game on TV, it's a little different. So it's important, it's very important, particularly for a school like Oregon State that hasn't gotten the exposure we're getting now.'
(How confident are you in OSU's kicking game right now?) 'I thought our special teams played probably as well as we've played all year and maybe in the last couple years (against Fresno State) - kicking-wise, coverage-wise, punting-wise - all of that stuff, I thought we pretty much dominated that football game and that's what we've got to continue to do.'
(What's the challenge for OSU's offensive line this week?) 'They'll do it all -they'll blitz you, or blitz-zone you, or do different things. But the biggest thing is, they're so quick and so physical playing you straight-up. They get off blocks. There's a sense of urgency for us. Ed Orgeron is their defensive line coach; he coached for me at Miami for five years and I know how he coaches and I know he'll have them gunned up, and they're coached very, very well - but their whole defense is. The biggest thing is, they run and they get off blocks. Shaun Cody is a factor, he's a flat-out factor - he's a good football player.'
(On injuries to offensive tackle Brian Kilkenny and split end Jason Boyd) 'Brian Kilkenny broke his fibula and there was no other damage; he sprained his ankle in the same injury and the ankle probably hurts more than the break. He's probably (out) five or six weeks, we look to have him back and he'll be able to play towards the end of the year. The exact date depends on the rehab and all of that, but it was good news when we heard that last night. There is no surgery; there was concern over a leg or something like that, but that wasn't the case. Jason Boyd is pretty close to 100 percent, he should be able to play; again, it depends on how he practices. We thought he was healthy last week and he didn't practice full speed, so you just can't play him when that happens. We'll find out today, but it looks like he's got a chance to be 100 percent.'