Erickson Meets The Press
Oct. 23, 2001
(On California in general) 'They've been on some hard times, they've played some awfully good football teams. As you look at them on video, they've played some awfully good football games, had some opportunities to win, and just couldn't quite get it done so they're struggling, there's no question about it. So are we, so it's not a heck of a lot different. It's obviously a very important game for us. We have no room for really any error at all if we want to have any opportunity to be involved in any bowl scenario, so our backs are to the wall. We've got to be concerned more about ourselves than anything else right now.
'When you look at Cal, obviously they have some talent. Their offensive front is a group that's been playing a long time. They've been able to run the football with some success against a lot of different teams. I guess (quarterback) Kyle Boller is not going to play, from what I understand, so Eric Holtfreter will be their quarterback, he's been around and played pretty well against UCLA early in the game. Joe Igber is a heck of a running back, he makes a lot of things happen for them and he's probably the key to their offense. Defensively, their linebackers - Scott Fujita is a guy who has been starting there for a couple years. All those linebackers played against us last year, and last year it was a tough football game that went down to the end.
'But the bottom line for us is that we've got to concern ourselves with us. We've got to try to get our third win and then go on with the season. I look back to last week's game and in reviewing that, we had a lot of opportunities - particularly in the third and fourth quarter - to win that football game. When it was 24-20 we had a number of opportunities to go ahead 31-20 and put them in a tough situation, and we just didn't do it. We didn't make plays. Then with 11 minutes left or 10ï¿½ minutes, they make a play on special teams and then they score 21 points. It's very disappointing. Of all the games we've lost this year, that was probably the most disappointing for me because we had opportunities to win it.
'The tide and momentum changes in football games, and it did a couple-three different times. When it was 14-3, we had everything going - we were moving the football, playing great defense, and we give up a long bomb for a touchdown that makes it 14-10 and the momentum changes. We have it in the third quarter and they make the long run in the third quarter to go ahead, and we come back and get a turnover to make it 24-20 and then get a lot of opportunities and don't make plays. Missed tackles, don't catch balls, don't throw balls, don't do a lot of different things ... a year ago, we made plays in those situations. We had a lot of games just like the Arizona State game last year - you look back at UCLA, you look back at Cal a year ago when opportunities were there for us to win and we made plays. That's the bottom line. That's something for us - to win and be successful in the last five football games, we're going to have to clean that stuff up and make plays and not make mental mistakes. The little things that make the difference in a football game, we haven't done. The little things like making tackles, making plays - just basic, fundamental things. We've got to start doing that in the next five games or we're going to struggle. It's that simple.
'That was a disappointing loss for us because I felt we could have won the game and didn't, but that's behind us. Now we've got to go on and get ready for this one. We've got five football games left, and this is the first one.'
(On moving James Newson to flanker from slot receiver) 'We feel James is better out there than he is in the slot, that we can give him better opportunities to make plays, that he can make big plays for us out there, that he can catch the football downfield with one-on-one situations with a corner. He's very physical. We felt we were wasting him a little inside. The bottom line is, we felt that putting him out there, he could make the big play for us - which he has since we moved him out there. There were some opportunities that we had to get him the ball more in the game against Arizona State where he beat guys but we just never got the ball to him. But that's why we moved him out there.'
(What aspects of California concern you most?) 'Their running game, No. 1. They can make things happen in the running game, they've done that. (Cal offensive coordinator) Al Borges does a nice job coming in with a plan against his opponent, so that's a concern. Defensively, they blitz the living heck out of you so they can make you look awful bad. We've got to be able to deal with the blitz and handling all that stuff, that's their style of play and they've created a lot of problems for a lot of teams because of it.'
(On placekicker Ryan Cesca's improvement the past two seasons) 'In the field goal category the past two years, the improvement has been unbelievable. He's got tremendous confidence in kicking it, he kicks it under pressure. The improvement has been unbelievable, and this year particularly because the holder and the snapper are different. For kickers, that's a frantic thing if you deal with them on a day-to-day basis, but he's adjusted to that. He's just so much more consistent and really has confidence in what he's doing. He's improved a lot, he's got to be more consistent kicking the ball off. If there's an area he needs to improve on, it's consistency in that. But as far as field goals and so forth, he's been unbelievable.'
(You were a Montana State teammate of Jan Stenrud, one of the first soccer-style placekickers. Did you envision that style becoming the one all kickers would use?) 'When Jan did it, I was a sophomore when he was a senior, he couldn't speak English, so it didn't make much difference at that time. But it really started, because after he left we had two other skiers - Frank Kalfoss was one of them - who came to Montana State and they kicked real well. They were soccer-style kickers and then you started seeing it all the time. As you went through football, you never saw the old straight-on dinosaur kickers, and you still don't see them. It's amazing. Obviously, that style is the way to go.'
(With the disappointment of this season, what have you observed about the senior leadership on this team?) 'I don't think there's any lack of senior leadership at all. The effort's there, there's no question about it. We're just not making the plays that we've made in the past in some areas. You come and watch (running back) Ken Simonton on video against Arizona State and here's a guy who's out of the Heisman Trophy race, who's struggled getting 100 yards, but you watch him play in that game and we're asking him to (pass) protect and he's blocking guys and giving effort ... it's the same way with all those seniors. (Defensive end) Kyle Roselle played his best football game. It's not here (points to his heart), our problem is we're just making too many mistakes - and it's not by the seniors all the time, by any means - to win football games when we have to win them. Until that stuff stops, we're going to struggle. Jonathan (Smith, quarterback) is a leader, and Ken is a leader, (center) Chris Gibson - those seniors are playing their butts off, and you can't ask for any more than that as far as that aspect is concerned. Effort is a real key to winning, but it's not the full key to winning. You've got to do the little things, technique-wise and so forth, that make the difference in winning football games, and that's the area right now where we're probably falling off the most. And that's not just their fault - any time that happens, that's my fault. It's not just the players, it's Dennis Erickson, too, so that's disappointing to me.'
(Jonathan Smith seems to be feeling a lot of the weight for this season - how much responsibility really lies with him?) 'There's no more on him than on anybody else on this football team, in my opinion. You look at different things - he might make a bad throw here and there when a guy is open, but then again, a guy drops a ball on him, too. It's a combination of different things. He might make a bad throw, then he comes back and makes a great throw in that football game on third-and-10 that would keep a drive going, and the guy drops the ball. It's a number of different things, not just Jonathan Smith by any means.'