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Erickson feels heat with Sun Devils

PULLMAN – It seemed as if 2010 was going to be a make-or-break year at Arizona State for coach Dennis Erickson.

The Sun Devils, 10-3 his first year in the Valley of the Sun, were coming off back-to-back losing seasons. A bowl game seemed necessary or Erickson was going to find himself, as he did in his NFL stints, back on the hot seat.

It is a dynamic Erickson, who has been a collegiate head coach for 22 seasons, understands all too well.

“When you get there, the expectations at every place are high,” he said Tuesday on the Pac-10 coaches’ conference call. “Sometimes you go into a place where they haven’t had a lot of success, the expectations maybe aren’t as high as places that have (had success).

“We have had some success here for years before I got here. We also haven’t been consistent all the time over the years. It’s not unlike other places, I don’t know if that’s any different.”

And the response to ASU’s 3-4 overall, 1-3 Pac-10 start has been no different than other places either. After getting walloped 50-17 at California last week, Erickson was raked over the coals by Arizona Republic columnist Paolo Boivin.

“The administration has to be concerned,” Boivin wrote. “ASU must win four of its remaining five games to be bowl eligible, and three of those games will come against teams currently ranked. Fans will be calling for Erickson’s head.

“ASU fired Dirk Koetter after all. And he went to bowl games.”

Though Boivin also wrote she didn’t think it was time to make a change, others closer to the program are in a tizzy since ASU is 3-10 in its last 13 games.

“All the alumni, all the boosters, all those people … want success as fast as they can get it,” Erickson said. “It’s no different here than it is anyplace else.”

But few places have a head coach who is 170-87-1, has won two national titles although he clearly didn’t deserve it in 1991, according to one UW alum and had teams finish in the top 10 six times.

“They are lucky to have him,” said Washington State coach Paul Wulff, who played under Erickson in Pullman. “They had a good coach before him, too, in Dirk Koetter, and that wasn’t good enough. I don’t know if they’ll ever be happy. If they’re complaining about Dennis, I don’t know what else they want.”

This week they want a win over 21-point underdog Washington State. If that happens, it will take three wins in the last four games – at USC, home vs. Stanford and UCLA, then at Arizona – for ASU to gain bowl eligibility. ASU needs seven wins because two were against FCS schools, and only one will count toward the required six wins.

Erickson knows the expectations. He also knows it may take a little more time.

“To continue to build a program, probably the issues are a little different,” in Tempe than the other five colleges he has coached at Erickson said, “but they’re still issues. Like anything, it takes time to get it done.”

Around the conference

Last week Arizona defensive back Shaquille Richardson earned Pac-10 player of the week honors with his performance against WSU. This week quarterback Matt Scott turned the trick by leading a rout of Washington. The two have something in common. “That’s back-to-back weeks we have a backup player win player of the week,” said coach Mike Stoops. “That tells me these players get it.” Richardson was filling in for an injured Trevin Wade while Scott did the same for Nick Foles. … UCLA has suspended two starters for this week’s contest against Arizona for unspecified violations of team rules, though the Los Angeles Times reported the violations were drug related. … “It’s never good to lose players,” UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. “Attrition is part of football but you don’t like to do it to yourself. I’m disappointed with the athletes involved and, hopefully, people on this team are starting to learn their lesson as to what’s appropriate behavior.” Cal plays Oregon State on Saturday in Corvallis, carrying the weight of two previous blowouts on the road. already this season. Bears coach Jeff Tedford doesn’t know why his team has struggled at times outside of Berkeley and routed teams at home. “The preparation is no different,” Tedford said. “The only thing that’s different is, typically, they are hostile environments.” … The Beavers struggled to put pressure on the quarterback early in the season, but they have been much better recently. “Individuals got better and more confident,” said coach Mike Riley said of his defensive front. “You see some individual growth, but you also see some emphasis. We weren’t getting much heat and it was really hurting us.”

USC spent much of its bye week preparing for Oregon, but no matter how they tried, there was one area the Trojans couldn’t simulate: the Ducks’ speed. “I think it’s impossible,” coach Lane Kiffin said. “You’ve just got to do the best that you can.” For USC, that meant having the offense run Oregon’s schemes for the No. 1 defense. … When Oregon coach Chip Kelly first saw standout sophomore running back LaMichael James play in high school he wasn’t “blown away.” Not that he wasn’t impressed, because James “was a very good high school football player,” Kelly said. Now, though, James is even better. “He has a better understanding of what we’re doing offensively,” Kelly said. “I think he understands where his blocks are coming from, when he gets to the second level in terms of how to set them up.” … Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor has rushed for more than 100 yards for four consecutive games, reaching a career high with 142 yards against WSU last Saturday. The sophomore’s production has helped ease the loss of Toby Gerhart to graduation, though coach Jim Harbaugh said all the backs have contributed. “This last game we saw a lot of improvement,” Harbaugh said. “They do a great job replacing the production that Toby Gerhart had last season. Hopefully, we can surpass it.” … With Andrew Luck and Jake Locker squaring off this week in Seattle, are the defenses going to be overmatched? “I don’t know,” answered UW coach Steve Sarkisian when asked if it was going to be a shootout. “I think both sides hope it’s not, in all honesty. Both sides would hope that the defenses can step up and play the way they’re capable.”

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