Dennis Erickson's seat getting a little warm at Arizona State
Young Arizona State team is struggling in coach Dennis Erickson's fourth season.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Arizona State @ Washington, 7 p.m., FSN
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For most of a career that has spanned almost three decades and nine head coaching jobs, Dennis Erickson earned a reputation as a coach who was always in a hurry.
A quick-fix artist ready to jump at the next big offer.
But in the job he vowed would be his last, he suddenly finds himself needing a little more time.
As Erickson brings Arizona State to Seattle for a 7 p.m. game Saturday at Husky Stadium, the Sun Devils' season appears at a crossroads. Arizona State is 2-3, having lost three straight to teams that are or have been ranked — Wisconsin, Oregon and Oregon State — by a combined 15 points.
The two wins came against Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) members Portland State and Northern Arizona, only one of which will count for bowl-game purposes.
That means ASU already is in something of a win-or-else mode against UW. The Huskies are the last Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) FBS team the Sun Devils have beaten, taking a 24-17 last-second victory in Tempe on last Oct. 17.
Arizona State ASU has lost nine straight FCS games since then, eight straight in Pac-10 play.
"It's time to get this thing going in the right direction," said Erickson, an Everett native and former coach of Washington State (1987-88) and the Seahawks (1995-98). "I think we are headed there. We've just got to win games — that's the most important thing."
That has seldom been a problem for Erickson at the college level — he had just three losing seasons in 18 college seasons before taking over at ASU in 2007. And it didn't appear to be a problem in Tempe when the Sun Devils started out 8-0 in his first season.
But ASU is 13-21 since then, 8-18 in Pac-10 games.
And it's been an atypical fall for a coach who often had programs turned around by the second year — 9-3 in Year 2 at Washington State in 1988, 11-1 in Year 2 at Oregon State in 2000.
Arizona State, though, was senior-laden when Erickson took over.
"After that first year we have been playing a lot of young guys," Erickson said. "It's to a point now where we've got 11 seniors on our team and the rest of our team is underclassmen. We have two seniors that are starting, so it's a work in progress."
Arizona State has 13 seniors, which the school says is the fewest in the Pac-10 this year and fewest at the school in 25 years. Only three seniors are slated to start Saturday (one, Gerald Munns, filling in at middle linebacker for sophomore Vontaze Burfict, who will be benched for the start).
The Sun Devils have been particularly bereft of talent on the offensive line, probably the team's biggest issue the past few seasons. They led the Pac-10 in defense last season and lost four games by five points or less.
A recent Arizona Republic column blamed the youth on poor recruiting in the last two years under Dirk Koetter, the coach who preceded Erickson, noting that ASU has not had a first-round pick since 2003 and just 14 players on opening-day NFL rosters, one of the smaller totals in recent memory.
That youth appears to be duly noted in Tempe. The 63-year-old Erickson's contract runs through the 2012 season, and another recent Republic column observed that the grumbling doesn't seem as high among the fan base as might be expected given the record.
Arizona State also has shown signs of being on the verge of a breakout. Burfict leads a fast and athletic defense that held Oregon — the nation's leading offense at 569 yards per game — to 405 yards, a contest the Devils lost primarily due to seven turnovers.
And Erickson has retooled the offense, bringing in a new coordinator, Noel Mazzone, to install a no-huddle-style spread, a transition that has the Devils averaging 468 yards, 17th in the country.
The offense, though, has been turnover-prone, losing 13 in four games. The minus-seven turnover margin is 117th of 120 teams in the nation. Arizona State also has struggled to score in the red zone (last in the Pac-10 at 18 of 26). The defense, meanwhile, has been prone to giving up big plays.
Erickson admits it's taken a toll on everyone, saying, "Sometimes losing close is worse than losing the other way. But the positive of that is that our players know that we can compete against anybody and we can beat anybody. We've just got to do the right things."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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