Archive for the ‘Dennis Erickson’ Category

Spring Fish Wrap – Denny’s Devils Edition

May 27, 2009


Welcome to another Spring Fish Wrap. This time we take a gander at the ASU Sun Devils, approaching year three in the Dennis Erickson experiment, coming off a year-two season that has to be considered a disappointment among fans of the pitch-fork.

Hard to believe it’s already going to be year THREE for Erickson in the valley of the sun? Boy does time fly. I guess this is the year to start cranking up the old rumor-mill. You know, Erickson to ______. I mean let’s face it, he’s been there for TWO FULL years now. He’s obviously become bored with Tempe…..

2008: 5-7, 4-5 in the PAC-10, home for the holidays. An extremely disappointing year two of the Erickson era. Why? Well, 5-7 and no bowl pretty much sucks, no matter who you are. After a quick 2-0 start, they lost a “shocker” to UNLV – AT HOME NO LESS – in a total “lookahead” game prior to the Georgia Bulldogs coming to town. But that UNLV loss started the downward spiral, Georgia pretty much dominated them the next week, and with their confidence meter suddenly on empty, the team would overall drop six in a row.

ASU dealt with some injuries as well, along the way playing TEN true frosh, most in a season in school history. But you know, after being left for dead at 2-6, they did circle the wagons a bit. ASU would win their next three games to make the finish of the season mildly entertaining. The whole thing collapsed at the end, in a 31-10 thrashing at the hands of the hated Arizona Mildcats. To top off the agony, the 31-10 loss was their worst to Arizona since 1964. Ouch.

Last year vs. WSU: A 31-0 shutout. But the Cougs kept this one somewhat interesting. ASU would outgain WSU 398-130, but it was “only” 10-0 at the half. Hey, being down by two scores at the half? Sad to say it, but something like that was a moral victory for the ’08 Cougs. WSU once again lost the turnover battle, giving it away twice with zero takeaways. But the running game was BRUTAL in this one, where the Cougs would get just seven net rushing yards on the day.

At least QB JT Levenseller got into the game for his first heavy dose of playing time. Sure, he was a rather ineffective 7-for-14 for 41 yards and a few turnovers. Not a great day to burn a redshirt. But at least he saw some real action in what will hopefully benefit him in the coming season….right??

ASU FANS ARE: Disappointed, to say the least, about 2008. The losing season smarts, sure. But for ASU, you must consider the level of expectation for last year to get your arms around this thing. For you see, many, many websites, blogs and such had fallen for ASU during preview season. Coming off a surging 10-win 2007 season, with a decent amount of returning starters, including QB Rudy Carpenter, there were a lot of reasons to like them. Then you consider that the second year of Erickson should see an uptick in performance, combined with seven home games, including the entire first month of the season in Tempe? Again, a lot to like. And a LOT to be disappointed with a 5-win season.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: The Erickson one-back offense, albeit slightly modified. Last year, in an effort to keep QB Rudy Carpenter upright and out of traction, the offense was fine-tuned to include more short passes and quick-hitters. Rudy and the rest of the QB’s took a beating in 2007, so it sounded like a good idea. And on paper, at least sacks were down (34 allowed in ’08, a dramatic improvement from 55 allowed in ’07). But…

’08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: 309.4 yards per game of total offense, good for 100th in the country. 100th!? With Rudy Carpenter, Michael Jones at WR, Erickson’s modified offense, etc? The passing offense was OK, with an average of 220.3 yards per game, 4th in the PAC-10. But the running game? Forget it. ASU would average just 89.1 yards per game, just 2.9 yards per carry. They would finish ahead of only UCLA in the PAC-10 in rushing yards per game, and behind teams like WSU and UW. Without a doubt, lack of a running game ruined their ’08 offense. In another disappointing area, they would finish 9th in the conference in the all-important 3rd down conversion rate, moving the chains just 29% of the time on 3rd downs.

’09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: Seven. Not bad. But that number of seven returning starters does not include QB Rudy Carpenter or play-making WR Michael Jones.

TOP RETURNING OFFENSIVE PLAYER: On a team returning a solid number of starters, but losing leading passer Rudy Carpenter and leading WR Michael Jones, one has to dig a little to find the top guy. I almost went with returning senior WR Chris McGaha, but his ’08 season was down in terms of numbers as well as being beat up most of last year. Instead, we’ll go with running back Dimitri Nance.


Nance is a tough, physical back with some pretty good quickness. A stout 5-10, 220, he packs a punch and is tough to bring down. He led the team in rushing yards (410) and tied for the team lead in rushing TD’s last year (3). But he shared the bulk of the carries for the most part with Keegan Herring in ’08. But with Herring now gone, it will be Nance’s chance to carry the mail. Combine the idea of a new starting QB, and Nance might not be just the best player on offense, but also the most important. A big year out of him could go a long way to getting back to a bowl.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: Traditional 4-3 look. Some blitzing, but they rely on the front four to get pressure. Some good speed and some outstanding talent at d-tackle and d-end, they will come after you big-time.

’08 DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Pretty solid across the board. ASU was 4th in the conference in scoring defense, 4th in rushing defense, 7th in passing defense and finally, 5th in total defense. They were third in the conference with 16 INT’s, and led the conference with four INT’s for TD’s in ’08. They even had one game where they scored four defensive TD’s, a new school record.

’09 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: Six. Not bad. But some big-time returners are back, especially up front along the d-line and at linebacker.

TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER: This one’s easy. Senior defensive end Dexter Davis is the top returner on D in ’09, and maybe the top defensive end in the PAC-10 for this upcoming season. He’s that good.

Not a huge guy for a lineman at 6-2, 252, Davis is strong as an ox and extremely quick. He finished with 11 sacks last year among his 15 tackles for loss, both tops on the team. The only player in the PAC-10 to have at least 10 sacks in each of the last two seasons, Davis is the top pass rushing end out west.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out the video clip for more. He’s coming from the defensive end spot on the bottom of the screen.

Watch Dexter Davis sack in Sports Online | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com
First you see his initial push on the tackle to get him on his heels. Then watch the hands, where he literally swats/swims/clubs his way past the tackle. It’s REALLY fast, so you have to watch it a few times to see it. But it’s that big-time move that has him right by the lineman, and in an instant that tackle is grasping at air. But not only does he have the strength and moves to handle a 300+ pound behemoth, he then has the closing burst to sack an awfully strong, mobile QB in Locker with a lightning quick change of direction. Yep, Davis is pretty much everything.

TOP THREE POST-SPRING PRACTICE QUESTIONS:

1) Can the running game get any better? Please??? It was a long year on the ground for the Devils, boasting one of the worst rushing offenses in the conference. They literally fell off a cliff with this part of the offense. The offensive line was young, breaking in some new blood here and there, so that had something to do with it. While they improved in the sacks allowed department, it never came on the ground. But all is not lost. Dimitri Nance is in position for a big senior year, and will have some help back there with returners like Shaun DeWitty. But the health of the o-line is an issue, this spring and potentially this fall. Three o-line starters sat out spring ball, and for a group still trying to establish itself, this isn’t good news.

2) Is Danny Sullivan ready to replace Rudy? Or is there someone else in the mix? In a pretty strong showing this spring, senior QB Danny Sullivan went out and put himself in the lead for the starting job this fall.

Sullivan is a big dude at 6-5, 238, and hasn’t played much over the last three+ seasons. He did throw 43 passes last year, but this will be his first shot as a starter.

Hang on a second. Big senior, with a strong arm, some surprising mobility, but hasn’t played much while sitting behind an established four-year starter? SOUND FAMILIAR!?!


Not to suggest that Sullivan is the second coming of Gary Rogers….but….you know. Just saying.

3) So if the offense sputters with a banged-up line and inexperience at QB, is the defense good enough to save the day? Mmm, could be. ASU’s defense is returning some serious talent, in all the right places. They will be strong up front with not only Dexter Davis, but defensive tackle Lawrence Guy will be a force. Guy was a frosh All-American last year, actually leading the ASU defensive line in total tackles while finishing second behind Davis with 10 tackles for loss. A huge-framed athlete at 6-5, 275, Guy looks like a rising star.

But they’ll be strong at corner, where starters Omar Bolden (coming off injury) and Terrell Carr are both back in ’09. And they’ll be set at linebacker as well, where starters Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel return for their senior seasons. Nixon and Goethel combined for 161 tackles, 15.5 for loss, and SEVEN interceptions. One of the best all-around linebackers in the conference, Nixon actually tied for the conference lead with five interceptions on his own, and finished sixth in the conference with 90 tackles.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: I admit it. I picked ASU 2nd in the PAC-10 last year. They just seemed to have everything going for them, from the schedule to the returning starters to Erickson’s second year. And I thought Rudy was just going to explode with the new wrinkles to the offense. But I know I wasn’t alone out there. They disappointed a lot of people with their mid-season collapse, something that looked like a near-impossibility during “preview” season.

A glance at the schedule shows ASU with some soft landings to start the year, opening at home vs. Idaho State and after a week-two bye, it’s a helping of Louisiana-Monroe. But then it gets tricky, with a road game at sweaty Athens, Georgia, where UGA and all that SEC speed will be waiting. After that, they host Oregon State to start October, then it’s off to Pullman for the 10/10 showdown in Martin Stadium.

Speaking of Martin Stadium, the Cougars have done fairly well at home vs. ASU this decade. ASU won a squeaker in Pullman in ’07, 23-20, on a missed field goal from going to OT (and a missed TD call from WSU winning the game outright?). But even in ’05, WSU lost by just three points at home, 27-24. And WSU beat ASU in Pullman in both ’02 (44-22) and ’03 (34-19). So Pullman isn’t exactly circled on the Sun Devil calendar as a place they love to be.

All told, ASU has seven home games. While that sounds great, remember they had seven home games last year, and we know how that turned out. And in a really tough stretch, they also get what are likely to be the top three teams in the conference on back-to-back-to-back Saturdays, in CAL (10/31), USC (11/7) and at Oregon (11/14). No doubt that stretch will make – or break – their season.

But I bet Erickson will have them with a major chip on their shoulder from the get-go. With a new QB, whether it’s Sullivan or one of the others in the mix, they will recommit to establishing the run game, and will ride Nance early in the season while things settle down. And that defense looks especially good. Something tells me they might be a candidate to turn it around quickly in the muddled middle ground of the PAC-10. Things could be awfully fluid between, say, the fourth and seventh place teams, and it’s hard to doubt the talent ASU has in the system. A 3-1 start heading into the WSU game isn’t out of the question. But that’s why they play the games! We’ll see what happens.

That’s it for a Wednesday. ENJOY your day, and as always, GO COUGS!

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Friday Fun With Video – UCLA and WSU

October 3, 2008

I thought with the current state of affairs around here, it might be nice to look back at some history and feel GOOD about some things? And why not? We’re 1-4, the economy sucks, the political debates rage on where republicans and democrats are CONVINCED they won last night, blah blah blah. Besides, it’s Friday and nobody works Fridays, right?

So, anyway, UCLA. We’ve got this funny little recent history with these guys that is fairly impressive, no? Strange. I’ve looked at it several times, and I still don’t get it. We’ve beaten them when we’ve been awful (3-8 in 1995, beat them 24-15 in Pullman). We’ve beaten them when we’ve been great (1997, beat them 37-34 vs. UCLA in a game that started a history-making season). We clinched a Rose Bowl bid against them in 2002, when Jason Gesser limped through as impressive a performance as many have ever witnessed watching football on the Palouse, a 48-27 win in Mike Price’s last regular season game as the REAL head coach of Washington State. The 37-15 win in ’06, securing what we all thought as a bowl bid with a 6th victory of the season…..but we know how that turned out. Heck, we even beat them last year when UCLA was still pretty good, coming into the Pullman match-up at 5-2 and off a huge win vs. Cal the week before.

So 10 of the last 14, and six of the last seven times, WSU has prevailed. But if you go back a little further, there is one game that more or less started it all, all the way back to 1988. WSU has won 11 of the last 17 in the series if you go back to ’88. But believe you me, it wasn’t always this way…..not even close. What’s amazing is that from 1958 leading up to the 1988 game, UCLA was an amazing 17-1-1 vs. WSU! The Cougs beat them at home in 1979, and tied them in 1981, but otherwise, UCLA had completely owned WSU. But then, 1988 happened. A win that kick-started a strong recent run against UCLA, but also regarded as perhaps the best win in school history.

October 29th, 1988 to be exact, a day that will live forever in the hearts of WSU football fans everywhere.

To do a quick recap, ’88 was a big-time breakthrough season for WSU. After a disappointing 3-7-1 first year at WSU in ’87, Dennis Erickson’s second season was a rousing success, a 9-3 season capped by an Aloha Bowl victory. But what many people forget about that season is that when the UCLA game rolled around, the team needed a victory. They were coming in off a two-game losing streak, including a bitter home loss to ASU the week before, and the team was starting to stagger. After a hot 4-1 start, including huge wins at Illinois (44-7), Minnesota (41-9) and Tennessee (52-24), and at home against #19 Cal (44-13), suddenly they were 4-3 and some doubt was setting in. Perhaps they weren’t for real after all?

Meanwhile, UCLA was crazy/sexy/cool, with Troy Aikman and company as the number-one team in the land. Aikman was a legit Heisman candidate, thriving under the bright lights of the LA market. So the task was huge, and the Cougs got off to a slow start as UCLA sprinted out to a 20-6 halftime lead. It didn’t look good. But WSU rallied, big-time, behind Timm Rosenbach, Tim Stallworth, Rich Swinton, Mike Utley, Chris Dyko, and oh yeah, the current head coach of your Cougars, Paul Wulff, for a stunning 34-30 win. Check out the waning moments, plus the on-the-field interview from Dennis Erickson after the game.

I love how that, even in the situation where UCLA had all the momentum (1st and goal on the 6?), the Cougar D still ATTACKED. Those last two pass plays saw blitzes, and Aikman took some heat. No scaling back at that point, might as well force the issue. But man, the joy Erickson had at the end of that game, with his Dad, how cool was that? Talk about pure joy!

I was too young to be at WSU at the time, but our own Hooty McBoob was a mulleted-up true FROSH in the fall of ’88. He said that, while watching the game in Pullman on TV, when that last 4th-down pass was batted down in the corner of the end zone to seal the deal, you could hear a collective roar all across campus. What a moment. Here’s hoping we’ll experience something similar, again….someday.

Enjoy your Friday, and GO COUGS!

Spring Fish Wrap – ASU Shocker Edition

June 20, 2008

Anyone know what the deal is with ASU fans always flashing the SHOCKER symbol all the time? I know, it’s supposed to be a pitch fork….but I think we know what’s really going on.

Anyway, why go with SHOCKER for an ASU fish-wrap? Well, for one thing it’s cool to see cheerleaders doing the SHOCKER. For another thing, the whole Dennis Erickson to ASU backstory? SHOCKER in itself.

Here’s some solid rumor-mongering for you (take this as you wish, but we have heard from more than one person that this actually happened). Back when ASU was interviewing around for their head-coaching position upon giving Dirk Koetter a copy of the “home game” after the ’06 season, AD Lisa Love of ASU stumbled upon good old Mike Price. One thing led to another, yada yada yada, boom – Love is totally feeling Price, so much so that she was ready to hire him. Only one small thing. As part of the hiring process at ASU, Love needed Price to list some referrals on his application. Guess who was #1 on the list?

psst – if you can’t tell, that’s Dennis Erickson.

Anywho, so Lisa Love calls Dennis, and she’s like “So, hey, tell me about Mike Price” and he’s all “Oh, Mike’s a great guy, graduates his kids, successful on and off the football field…..”and she’s all “Cool” and he’s all “…..hang on a second Lisa…..so….this ASU job….is it still officially available?” And she’s all “Uh, YEAH!” and he’s like”….can I tell you that I’m interested?” And boom, bada bing, yada yada yada, suddenly Lisa Love is on a plane to Moscow! We know how that turned out….

Meanwhile old friend King of Poop Island is back in El Paso wondering when the deal is done and what color tie he should wear to the press conference…..hmmm, Sun Devil gold? Maybe maroon? Oh, hey, how about BOTH! Maroon and gold stripes! Honey, can you run to the Walmart and see if they have maroon and gold striped ties!??! Yet like a watched pot that never boils, Price’s cell never rings with Love on the other end. News breaks that Love is in Moscow, and the dots are connected. Price’s heart breaks. That SOB did it again.

Ok, in all seriousness, we don’t know with 100% certainty that is the way it went down. We only have heard some chatter about the situation which made it’s way around the RV scene when ASU was in Pullman last fall. It could be complete BS. It could be completely innocent, and Love changed her mind after talking to Erickson. Then again, with a track record like Erickson….you make the call.

On the verge of taking the Miami job: “I’m not interested.”
On the verge of taking the Seahawks job: “I’m not interested.”
On the verge of taking every other job on the planet: “I’m not interested.”

All that out of the way, one cannot ignore Erickson’s college record. 158-68-1 in 19 years at the NCAA level? That is pretty remarkable. Even more, everyone predicted he would turn things around down in Tempe, and sure enough, year one saw them win 10 games before getting throttled in the Holiday Bowl by Texas. That was the game that Mack Brown’s moronic step-son just couldn’t help but try and be part of the game:


That kid took a lot of heat. The thing is, look at all the extra Texas people on the field on that play. It could have been anyone to reach down and hit the ball. One coach in the background is at least 5 yards onto the field. But whatever. It’s good blog-fodder, but that’s about it.

Anyway, how does ASU look coming out of spring ball? Are they ready to challenge for the conference title?

2007: 10-3, 7-2 in the Pac-10, tied for first with USC. After starting 8-0, finished 2-3 including Holiday Bowl wipe out, 52-34, at the hands of Texas.

Offensive Scheme: In the classic Erickson attack, it’s a one-back system, with three WR’s and a tight-end. We’ve seen that same offense in the Palouse for the last 20 years, so you know what they do. The offense played OK last year but I think ASU fans expected a little better. They were only 56th in the nation in total offense, and struggled in the running game, averaging 137 yards per game, or 77th in the nation. With seven starters back, including the QB, they should be better in their second year in the Erickson offense.

Top Offensive Player: QB Rudy Carpenter. The kid is still black-n-blue from the beating he took last year, a ridiculous 55 sacks(!). Our own Andy Mattingly had a career day against ASU last year, blitzing from every angle to bag four sacks of Carpenter in Pullman. But Carpenter still got the job done last year, throwing for over 3200 yards and 25/10 TD to INT ratio. Still, Carpenter took a beating last year:

Carpenter has a good arm and throws a nice deep ball, but he is not your prototype QB in terms of size. He stands 6-2 and weighs in at just over 200 lbs. Not Flutie-like or anything, but 55 sacks would take a lot out of any QB, and he certainly doesn’t have the build for that kind of punishment. It’s hard to finish off the season strong when your QB is on his back every other pass attempt. As Indiana Jones said, “it’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage.”

Defensive Scheme: 4-3 alignment, but somewhat conservative last year. This year is billed to be more aggressive, attacking, blitzing defense now that everyone has settled into the schemes. Craig Bray is the defensive coordinator, and yes, that is the same Craig Bray who spent considerable time at WSU, including help coaching up the defense for the 1994 Palouse Posse and the 1997 Pac-10 champions. The first year under Bray went pretty well, ranking 30th in the nation in total defense, and 21st against the rush. They were third in the conference in passing defense and scoring defense as well. Seven more starters are back on D for the upcoming year, and with a renewed commitment to attacking more, they could challenge USC as one of the top defenses in the west.
Top Defensive Player: Strong safety Troy Nolan looks like the best of all the returning defensive players. Nolan had six int’s last year, just one behind Oregon’s Jairus Byrd for the most in the Pac-10. He also had an impressive 64 tackles and 13 passes defended, good for #8 in the Pac-10. Decent size at 6-2, 210, he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty on defense.

Top Spring Questions:

1) 55 sacks last year? What’s the deal with that? Are they trying to put their own QB in the morgue?

That is pretty amazing to think about the QB actually going down that many times. What you don’t know is how many other hits he took in just getting rid of the ball. But there is supposedly a new commitment to keeping Carpenter healthy this upcoming season from offensive coordinator Rich Olson, including some more “spread ’em out” additions to the playbook. Also look for more quick-hitting pass plays vs. the traditional 5-and-7-step drops. Finally, they will be breaking in three new starters on the O-line. After 55 sacks, as well as the 77th ranked running attack, that can only be viewed as a positive thing.

2) Besides Nolan, who else could shine on an experienced defense?


The answer is actually two-fold, but ASU’s defensive ends look really impressive. Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez will both be seniors this season, and they combined for 15 sacks and 25 tackles-for-loss last year. Davis alone had 10.5 sacks, tied for 2nd in the Pac-10 last year.

But Luis Vasquez….hmm, sound familiar to you? That’s because he committed to WSU out of junior college late in 2006, but once Robb Akey left for Idaho, Vasquez bailed on the Cougs, instead opting to go with Erickson. Thanks again Dennis!

3) How about the rest of the skill positions?

They did lose Ryan Torain, who was having a strong season for the first half before suffering a knee injury that ended his senior year. But the rest of the top running backs are back, led by Keegan Herring. The 5-10, 195-lb back had 815 yards and 5 TD’s last year, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. But junior Dimitri Nance is a load at 5-10, 220. He had an even 500 yards last year with a team-high 7 rushing TD’s.

But where they are really strong is at wide-out. They looked stacked, where they might have the best receiving unit in the Pac-10. Chris McGaha led the team in catches(61) and yards(830). But Michael Jones is the true home-run threat. He had 769 yards, a 16.7 yards-per-catch average and an impressive 10 receiving TD’s, tops on the team and 9th in the conference in scoring. Jones is a nightmare on the edge, at 6-4 and 200 lbs and outstanding hands and speed.

WSU Football Blog Bottom Line: A lot of the experts see big things for ASU in ’08. Some are even saying that they will threaten USC for the conference title, and are showing up as the #2 team in the Pac-10 in virtually every pre-season rag. But are they what they seem? On the surface, I wouldn’t hesitate too much to put them squarely behind USC in the pecking order. But after looking at them a little more, well, I’m not so sure at this point.

First of all, we all know how important the schedule is. Last year, ASU opened the season with four straight home games, and then a road game at Stanford. The road to 5-0 was paved in gold. In fact, six of their first eight games overall were at home. This year, it’s sort of the same…but not really.

Sure, they open with four straight at home again, but one of those four is a doozy – GEORGIA, everyone’s darling pick to win the SEC and even possibly the top BCS title contender! But after that game, they begin a stretch of four road games over their next five. They travel to Cal, and then to USC before hosting Oregon. Then they take consecutive trips north to begin November, at Oregon State on 11/1 and at Husky Stadium on 11/8, before WSU comes to Tempe on 11/15. We all know, playing in the NW in November can be a dicey proposition for a team out of Arizona.

That looks like a real grind beginning with Georgia. They get waxed in that one, it could be tough to get up off the mat, but with the meat of the Pac-10 on the horizon, they won’t have a choice.

But most of all, I really wonder if they can take the heat off Carpenter. The beating he took last year just cannot continue in ’08. If it does, he won’t survive, especially when Georgia gets off the bus on 9/20. I don’t know if you caught the Sugar Bowl last year vs. Hawaii, but that defense was as fast and nasty as I saw out of any team last year, and that includes USC. And while they look loaded at the skill positions, breaking in three new offensive line starters could cause some strain on Carpenter. They better get the kinks worked out early.

No matter what, they are going to be a real interesting team to watch in ’08! It should be another entertaining year. We’ll see if they can match the expectations.

Only two more fish-wraps to go – UW and Hawaii. They will hit next week, and that will be it. Also we’ll be monitoring the Seattle Times tear-down piece on WSU. As soon as it hits, we’ll do our best to filter through the BS and get to the heart of the matter.

ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND!