ASU Football: So, we meet again, Dennis Erickson

Stephen Dunn

Osahon Irabor, Evan Finkenberg and Chris Coyle voice their thoughts on facing Dennis Erickson, plus Tuesday practice notes.

There are no secrets between Pac-12 South opponents, especially when former coaches are involved. The underlining subplot to the Arizona State at Utah game continues to be about Dennis Erickson.

After getting fired by ASU in 2011, Dennis Erickson took one year off and then joined the Utah staff as the co-offensive coordinator. Erickson recruited many of the players on the current Sun Devil roster, including Taylor Kelly, Evan Finkenberg, Chris Coyle, Osahon Irabor and more.

Once the days of Erickson patrolling the sidelines in Maroon and Gold were over, some transfer rumors began to develop. Meanwhile, left tackle Evan Finkenberg never even considered leaving.

"I love Arizona State. I love this university," Finkenberg said. "I came here for this football program but also for the university. It's a place I love. I'm happy I was able to stay here and keep winning and keep playing football."

Coyle rarely got utilized in the Erickson passing attacking but he still looks forward to seeing him. There are no lingering hard feelings.

"It's going to be fun," Coyle said on facing Erickson. "Nobody that played with coach Erickson can think about it during the game. It's something we need to push aside until the end. We got to treat them like Utah. Pretend like there's nobody we know on the other side. And after the game we can say 'hi' and give hugs and stuff. Until then, we are mortal enemies."

Erickson held the Arizona State's head coach position from 2007-2011. During those four years, plenty of lessons were taught.

"From coach [Erickson] it was just how to be a good person," Irabor said. "He gave everyone respect. We learned that from him. Coach E was a very good person and a very good coach."

Irabor remembers the recruiting process under Erickson clearly. Erickson proudly boasted his national championship rings from his time at Miami, winning it all in 1989 and 1991. That prestigious hardware was among the reasons Irabor decided to play for ASU.

"I just remember meeting him at my house and then coming here to Arizona State to meet him," Irabor said. "He showed me his national championship ring. And I just remember putting that thing on and how big that was. I just remember he was a legend in the coaching realm."

Regarding the Xs and Os of the game, Irabor and the rest of defense are familiar with the Erickson-led offense. Beyond that, Irabor doesn't think the ties to Dennis Erickson matter.

"It doesn't at all. We are not worried about it one bit," Irabor said on the impact of Erickson to the matchup. "This is about the 2013 Sun Devils. It's about what we're going to do in this game Saturday. It's not Coach E versus anybody. It's our offense and our defense vs. their team. We are focused on executing our game plan. All that other stuff we aren't really worried about."

The 2013 Sun Devils Irabor alluded to are 6-2, which is the same record the 2011 Sun Devils sported through eight contests. From there the wheels came off the wagon, as ASU lost its remaining five games, resulting in the end of the Erickson era. The rapid free-fall caused frustration and disappointment.

Irabor and Coyle learned from that rough patch and are determined not to let it happen again.

"Just keep grinding and stay focused. You can't let up just because things are going good. That's when you have to press on and move forward," Irabor said. "We definitely have a different work ethic under coach [Todd Graham] that a lot of the senior leaders really adapted to and really like. We are just making sure everyone understands it's time to work. And when things are going good, you got to work even harder to keep it up."

Coyle had a similar take.

"We aren't going to get complacent in what is happening this year. The coaches, I remember on that [2011] team, we really didn't keep reminding ourselves of what we needed to do," Coyle said. "We didn't keep our standard as high as we had it in the beginning of the season. So people started getting complacent. Since the standard went down, people didn't practice as hard, they weren't playing as hard, making mental mistakes. But with this coaching staff, I get told a countless amount times that we got to focus on this game. I think that's something we won't repeat again, just because of what they [coaches] are doing."

Coyle summed up the entire ASU/Erickson ordeal best.

"I pretty much appreciate everything [Erickson] did for me," Coyle said. "But I can't wait to beat him."

Tuesday practice notes

  • Osahon Irabor took off the green no-contact jersey and participated fully.
  • Jaelen Strong returned to practice after missing Wednesday for an undisclosed reason.
  • Todd Graham loves the way nine of the 11 defensive starters are performing and he hopes the other two step up. No specific names were mentioned.
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