Erickson Meets The Press

Nov. 19, 2002

(On not having a Saturday off before this season's Civil War) 'Last year was hard on everybody involved to finish the season so early and then have to wait for that period of time. I know I'd much rather play right away like we're doing now. There's less chance of weather - I hope - but I guess you never know around here. But as far as our players are concerned, you're getting close to finals and recruiting and all that, so it's better off the way it is right now.'

(Will Mitch Meeuwsen start at free safety?) 'We haven't really made a decision. Mitch Meeuwsen is basically healthy now, so right now, if I was guessing, we'd have to watch them in practice. We'd go with the way we've been going, with Lawrence (Turner at strong safety) and Calvin (Carlyle at free safety). But as the week goes on, depending on how Coach (Craig) Bray feels, obviously, that change can be made. Mitch played quite a bit last week and played pretty well; he still tweaked a little bit but I believe he'll be close to 100 percent. He'll play a lot, no question about that.'

(What are your concerns in facing Oregon?) 'When you look at the University of Oregon, defensively it starts with David Moretti and Kevin Mitchell - I look at those two linebackers, and it seems like I've been looking at them forever. They're just great players, they make so many plays and they play hard. They're the heart and soul of that defensive football team. Their two big tackles inside (Haloti Ngata and Igor Olshansky) have been a force; they average about 320 in there. Then (free safety) Keith Lewis has been a force for them in the secondary. You look at that group, and they've played well most of the time. Obviously, they've had some injuries in the secondary at corner, some inexperience to start out with - now it's not inexperience, but as I've watched them the last month ... (defensive coordinator) Nick Aliotti, I've got tremendous respect for what he does as a coach; he's one of the best ones around. He finds ways to win, he finds ways to plan against you and they'll have a great plan against us. I'm not sure what it's going to be, but it's a darn good defensive football team.

'I look at it offensively, and the skill they have outside - (wide receivers) Keenan Howry, Samie Parker, Jason Willis - those three guys, you put them together with George Wrightster at tight end, and you've got some talent. Getting the football to them, doing those types of things, that's such a key. Obviously, (running back) Onterrio Smith is a great player and it's foolish to say that without him it's not going to hurt them. It is. But they can do it by committee. (Running back) Terrence Whitehead is a good player, they're using (running back) Allan Amundson much more because of his speed and so forth. One thing about it, being around this game for many, many - sometimes too many - years, things like that make you rally and do other things. I'm sure that's what's going to happen. Their offensive front is playing well. (Quarterback) Jason Fife has played really good at times; sometimes he hasn't - not unlike Derek (Anderson, OSU's quarterback). But he's a talent, he's a good athlete, he can run, make things happen.

'You know you'll get your best on both sides of the football, then you look at the kicking game. Jared Siegel is something special - kick a 59-yarder, that's pretty special. That doesn't happen a lot. Then we all know about Keenan Howry and what he can do return-wise; he broke our back last year. That was probably the biggest turning point in the game a year ago; we're very aware of that and he's very capable of doing that. He's that type of player, he's a big-play guy. You look at all facets of it, and it's going to be a heck of a football game. I've got nothing but respect for what they've done there, and what they always do, and it's going to be a heck of a battle. That's why you have these games, so it's going to be fun. We'll see what happens.'

(On OSU running back Steven Jackson) 'He's a heck of a back, there's no question about that. Steven brings a lot to the table. He's big, he's got good feet, he's got good speed, sometimes I think he tricks you with how fast he is for how big he is. But he's been our workhorse. Let's face it, when we made a decision that he's going to carry it 25 or 30 times a game, we've become more productive offensively because we've gotten the ball to a big-time player's - in our scheme of things - hands. And he's been able to carry the load. What can I say? He's had a great year, and we'll see what happens this week. He played a little bit against them last year. He's a good football player, there's no question about it, and we're very fortunate to have him on our team.'

(Have your perceptions of the Civil War rivalry changed at all since you've become involved in it?) 'It's the biggest rivalry I've been involved in. It's like I've said many times, it depends on which state you live in. When I was a player and a coach with dark hair at Montana State, that was the biggest rivalry that you had. It was the biggest thing in the state. There weren't a lot of people in the state, but it was the biggest thing in the state. When I went to Idaho, it was Boise State. When I went to Washington State, it was the Huskies. When I was at Miami, it was Florida State. All these rivalries have something a little bit different about them just because of where they are. The thing about this rivalry that's interesting is, in this state, you're either a Beaver or a Duck for the most part. The interaction within the state with the fans is probably more here than any other place I've been. It lasts for 365 days; that's just how it is. I think it's a rivarly that's healthy - it's not as vindictive as I've seen at some other places, and I'm talking about the fans. I think it's great. It's huge in the state from the time the game is over until you play the next year. That's just how it is. It's a great rivalry; I've enjoyed being involved in it - not just our fans, but I've enjoyed, over the four years, meeting a lot of the Duck fans who are tremendous people. But on that particular day, you're either one of the other - that's just how it is.'

(On the leadership of OSU linebackers Nick Barnett and Richard Seigler) 'That's just it - the fire they have. They're both captains, they both play with a great deal of intensity - that's what they're all about. The intensity level the play at, the enthusiasm they play with, is a catalyst for what we do defensively. And they make a lot of plays. They're in positions, with what we do defensively, where they are going to make a heck of a lot of plays and they do. They play with great intensity, and they both run real fast. That's probably the biggest asset they have, that they have great speed. That's kind of what our defense is built on. They light a fire under themselves and everybody else. Their personality is kind of how we play defense, basically.'

(The last few weeks, Oregon has changed its defensive scheme to concentrate on pass coverage. Do you anticipate them moving back toward the line of scrimmage to stop the run this week?) 'I promise you that they'll have every possible guy they can down there to stop the run. That's what they're going to do; if they don't, that will definitely surprise me because Steven (Jackson) and the running game has been the key to our success as of late. I'm sure they feel they can cover our receivers. I'd be surprised not to see it; but you never know, in a game like this, what's going to happen. I'm sure that's what their plan is. If you find out, let me know.'

(How much control of the game do you think OSU's defense can have?) 'Both defenses are going to have control of the game - that's how it looks to me. That's kind of how this game has been in the four years I've been in it. When you get to this time of year, defenses control a lot of what happens. I think their defense and the way they play against the run ... I keep mentioning those two linebackers, because those two linebackers are special, David Moretti and Kevin Mitchell - along with ours. To me, it's like any game - turnovers and who plays the best defense is probably going to decide the game.'

(Does it help to have played both Arizona State and California, which run offenses similar to Oregon's?) 'If I can last long enough, we'll be playing teams like that every week and I won't have to worry about it. It helps. They're a little bit different than Oregon. The basic stuff is somewhat the same, but they all have their little different things. Jeff (Tedford, Cal head coach) is a little different than Dirk (Koetter, ASU head coach) ... some of the basic lineups and shifting and motion and those types of things are similar, but they do some different things.'

(On what OSU quarterback Derek Anderson has done well this season and what he needs to work on before next season) 'I'd just as soon talk about that when the season is over with. Like any young quarterback, he's made mistakes. He's got a lot of things that he has learned and a lot of things he'll continue to learn. When the season is over with, we'll sit down and go over the things we think he needs to improve on and the things he needs to work on, like we do with everybody on our football team regardless of their position.'

(Around the state, do you get a feel from older fans about how important this game is?) 'Having grown up in football all my life, I pretty much knew what this game was like. I didn't get a chance as a young kid to come down, but having coached at Washington State and been around, I knew the importance of this game and every other rivalry game. It's important. If you're a Beaver, you want to beat the Ducks every year. That's the most important game; there's no ifs or ands about it. That's just how it is and how it always will be for us, and that's how it should be. It shouldn't be anything else. There's nothing more important during the season - or postseason or anything - than this football game. That's how it is.'

(On OSU's special teams) 'I'm extremely happy with how we're kicking the ball. Kirk Yliniemi has come in and is kicking it really well. He's got 13 straight (field goals) or something like that. He's been very, very efficient. Carl Tobey has punted the football really, really well. We've got to be aware of where we're kicking it and how high we're kicking it and all those things on Saturday with Keenan (Howry) back there. But I like where we are. I think our cover teams have been pretty good, for the most part. Any more, it's how many halo penalties you get - that's the key to whether you punt good or not. Whether you stop within one-tenth of a yard to make sure you don't get into that little whatever-the-thing-is. We haven't had a lot of those. It's a great rule, but you spend two hours a day making sure you don't get in there; spend all of practice, 'Okay, don't get in the halo. You're one-and-a-half yards in there. But we've played pretty well on special teams for the most part, and I like where we are going into this game.'

(How much have Oregon's recent offensive struggles surprised you?) 'I don't even worry about that. That's not our situation. I know what they've got, I know what they're capable of, and I know we'll see their best. That's all I can worry about.'

(Are special teams even more important in November when the weather can be more of a factor?) 'There's no question about it. I'll go back to our game last year (at Oregon). In those weather conditions, to me - more than anything - it was just fielding the snap and kicking it. And then on the other end of it, being able to field the punt - if you could do that, you won, much less the guy returning the ball. He caught it and hit it; it was a line drive, and when he caught it, there wasn't anyone there. As the year goes on, and if the weather is bad, it becomes a factor. I'm not sure what the weather forecast is for this week ... I don't even know if it's on TV.'

(Why has OSU played so well in November since you became head coach?) 'I don't know what it is. I really don't. Stay healthy, our young guys get better ... I don't know, I really don't. We practice pretty much the same all year. I really don't know. If I did, then I'd start doing it in October and September.'



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