TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 14: Head coach Todd Graham of the Arizona State Sun Devils speaks at a press conference introducing him as the new head football coach at Sun Devil Stadium on December 14, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Arizona State's early season turnover problems finally cost them a win on Saturday, as they lost to Missouri 24-20. However, on a positive note, the Sun Devils nearly overcame a 17-point fourth quarter deficit.
ASU faced plenty of adversity heading into the Mizzou contest: The Sun Devils played their first road game of the year, it was the first time Deantre Lewis played defense, and it the first road start for quarterback Taylor Kelly. With all that said, the opportunity for a win on the road against an SEC team was still within two yards.
"I was real concerned last week...I felt like we were winning big but were not taking care of the football." Todd Graham said today at his weekly press conference.
Teams rarely win close contests on the road, and almost never with four turnovers. Despite the bleak outlook at halftime, the emergence of a "never quit" attitude was apparent.
"We came down to a foot from winning the game, and we got to be able to make a foot when we get down there," Graham said. "But put all that behind us, and we are 2-1 after pre-season."
Now Pac-12 play begins, as the Utah Utes head to Tempe this Saturday. Both teams enter at 2-1 and are looking to stay over .500 on the year.
"Our guys are fired up to get Pac-12 conference play underway," Graham said. "Got Utah coming in here, one of the best coached teams in the Pac-12...great defensive football team."
In order for ASU to beat Utah, the sloppy plays must come to an end. Beyond offensive interceptions or fumbles, special teams issues were also a determent. The reliable Jamal Miles fumbled a return, punter Josh Hubner simply let one slip through his hands, and place holding became a headline story when Ryan Woods messed up a critical fourth quarter extra point attempt.
"The guy laid a big hot on Jamal, was definitely a contact fumble, we just got to take care of the ball better," Graham said. "We had two snaps, one fumbled extra point snap that was in our hands. Some of that could be attributed to the atmosphere."
When coach Graham elected to redshirt Mike Bercovici, who would have guessed his loss at placeholder may impact an entire outcome?
Another surprising sore spot continues to be the play of Cameron Marshall. In 2011, Marshall rushed for 1,050 yards and 18 touchdowns, while in three games during 2012 only has 81 yards on 25 carries.
"He (Cameron Marshall) missed a lot of practice and pre-season camp, he had a hamstring that was bothering him and slowed the development a little bit," Graham said. "He is a guy we want to get the ball to. No doubt want to get him more the ball more than we are doing, and get him going."
Another player mentioned was defensive tackle—or defensive giant—Mike Pennel. At 6-foot-5 and 355 pounds, Pennel is a large, talented body, and came out with something to prove after serving a one game suspension. Defensive coordinator Paul Randolph was extremely pleased with the way Pennel practiced all week, the hard work paid off, and that was reflected in Graham's comments.
"I was really really proud of Mike, coming back off a game where he was suspended," Graham said. "Mike was a guy the exceeded my expectations. He can be a special player for us."
All the above quotes are typical Coach Graham, pretty easy to predict and nothing to earth shattering. However, Graham shocked me here, basically calling himself out for the conclusion of the Mizzou game.
"You win games with great players, and you lose close games because we did not get it done as a coaching staff," Graham said. "I think when you have someone that you have total trust and belief in, like I do Coach Randolph and Coach Norvell, you let them do their job."
Coach Norvell at thirty years young is calling the shots offensively, but Graham obviously has input as well. The decision to bring in quarterback Michael Eubank on the goal line has been consistent all season, but the execution against Mizzou caused fans displeasure.
"Last week everybody was talking about what a genius we are on offense." Graham said. "And then this week they are wondering why you called what you called or did what you did."
Regardless of the play calls, starting quarterback Taylor Kelly is rising to the occasion. Kelly had three total turnovers including a game ending interception, yet also kept ASU alive by channeling his inner Ben Roethlisberger.
"I call it an 'it factor', he (Taylor Kelly) showed me that, he made mistakes in this game no question about it." Graham said. "But I'm telling you this, we have a real quarterback...that guy is a winner."
- Deantre Lewis played a solid first game of defense, and will continue to get better with more practice.
- D.J. Foster will be used more on special team returns at some point of the year.
- Graham feels the Utah quarterback situation is not a big downgrade, as they still have a very capable backup in John Hays.
- The wide receiver issues are still glaring, dropping balls and failing to get open.
- Graham stated, "Will Sutton is as good of a defensive player as I've ever been around."