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August 31, 2009

Sun Devils looking to prove last season 'a fluke'

The Arizona State football team has had plenty of time to ponder last year's miscues and fatal flaws. But those nine months of reflection will be replaced by the genesis of a new season Saturday when ASU hosts Idaho State.

If you think last year still isn't on the mind of Dennis Erickson and company, you're wrong. That 5-7 mark to close out the season still burns.

"We would like to prove that last year was a fluke in this program," Erickson said. "If [the players] are not [motivated by last season] they shouldn't be on this team. We talk about it a lot, but it's over with. That year is over with … We want to prevent that from happening again and we're the only ones who can control that; the coaches and the players."

As for Saturday, Erickson said he's more concerned about righting his own ship than the competition.

ISU isn't expected to do much this season (it's been picked to finish last in the Big Sky Conference by both the coaches and media) and has a new offensive coordinator. Erickson said his staff has a good general idea of what to expect from ISU's defense, but reiterated this week was all about his team.

"No. 1, we've got to be ready to play," Erickson said. "That's the bottom line. Hopefully, that's a lesson that we learned a year ago: Play every week, regardless. So we've got to worry about ourselves more than anything else."

Erickson noted ISU's returning experience along the offensive front as well as at the quarterback position but said he doesn't expect to see a lot of blitzing from ISU.

As for his own defense, Erickson still isn't sold. Sure, there's been plenty of praise heaped upon the defense already, but Erickson was quick to point out the unit's inconsistency last year.

"That's the strength of our team but by no means are we a totally dominant defense," Erickson said. "We've got to prove that on the football field."

The defense -- and the whole team for that matter -- likely won't be at full-strength come Saturday.

Erickson said sophomore defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (biceps) and sophomore linebacker Shelly Lyons (knee) are questionable for Saturday's contest. Not to mention sophomore defensive end James Brooks, who will be suspended for the season's initial three games.

On the other side of the ball, the offensive line has been taking the most lumps. Sophomore Zach Schlink is out after getting his knee scoped last week and Erickson said junior right tackle Tom Njunge (biceps) and sophomore center Garth Gerhart (turf toe) are still questionable.

One player noticeably absent from Erickson's injury report was senior wide receiver Chris McGaha. After spending all of last year battling various nagging injuries, McGaha will try to recapture his 2007 form.

"You didn't see Chris McGaha last fall at all," Erickson said. "He was never healthy. He's healthy now so you'll see a different player out there … It's a good group [of receivers]. We've got five or six players who can really play and it's probably as well-rounded a group depth-wise as I've had in a long time."

The same can't be said, however, about the running back position.

It's just five days away from the opening kickoff and Erickson said he still doesn't know who the featured back will be. Erickson said he will let the players' performance over the first few games of the season dictate how he splits up the carries. Senior Dimitri Nance is still the presumed starter, but Erickson hinted that ASU will probably feature a backfield-by-committee approach to start.

"It's fairly even," Erickson said of the competition at running back. "I wish somebody would jump right out to be very honest with you, but that hasn't quite happened yet. We've got to feel things out and see how things happen."

Erickson said that four backs will likely see the bulk of the action and specifically named Nance, sophomore Ryan Bass, freshman Cameron Marshall and senior Jarrell Woods. Erickson also added he would eventually like to cut the number of featured backs down to two or three rather than four.

Given the makeup of his team's offensive talent, Erickson said he will be putting senior quarterback Danny Sullivan in the shotgun a lot more this season and prominently feature three-wide sets.

As for the defensive backfield, it too is yet to be determined. Erickson said he feels "confident" with his secondary heading into the season but that the starting safety positions still haven't been decided.


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