The beginning of coach Todd Graham's tenure was practically perfect thanks to a 63-6 win over NAU. Now the tough challenges await in Week 2 against a solid Big Ten school in Illinois.
Despite ASU's impressive Week One outburst, few have bought completely into the hype. Many fans continue to wait until after the Illinois game to see how good the Devils really are.
Now the Illinois game is on the horizon, and Graham's patented keys for the game have not changed, as evidenced by his remarks during his weekly press conference.
"Key for us offensively will be very very simple: do not turn the football over," Graham said. "Make sure we play disciplined football, that we don't have stupid penalties...do not do things to beat ourselves."
The above quote is a typical Graham comment, yet completely accurate. Graham went on to stress the importance of successful early season play.
"The first part of the year is so critical, each day that we practice we get a little bit better," Graham said. "And they become a little bit more knowledgeable...as we play each game were going to get better."
Improvement is needed. Illinois is a solid team that will provide numerous challenges for ASU. Ironically, the two squads are in similar positions.
"The Illinois defense is special, they have probably four players that are dynamic," Graham said. "Obviously their quarterback (Nathan Scheelhaase) is a special player.... a lot like our team is at running back and big physical fast receiving corps."
In last season's matchup, Illinois defeated the Devils 17-14. The current staff and players recently re-watched that game, gaining helpful insight on Illinois tendencies and personnel. The staff will also lean on linebackers coach Ron West and tight ends coach Chip Long, both of whom were at Illinois last season.
Heading into Illinois, Graham has put an emphasis on improving the tempo, having previously noted that, "We were excruciatingly slow."
"Our tempo was really really really slow. We were waiting on the defense, looks like were being courteous to them," Graham said. "I watch the 40-second clock, and we should snap the ball and should say 25 to 22 seconds...it was going way in the teens most of the night."
Another area of concern for the Sun Devil faithful has to be ball security. Both Cameron Marshall and fellow starting running back D.J. Foster coughed up the rock. Graham will not tolerate such a mistake, benching players if they fumble.
ASU vers Illinois will be nationally televised on ESPN, adding an extra sense of urgency to clean up those mistakes. A loss would result in fans becoming extremely frustrated, but a win would get everyone hyped for the year to come.
"We started off with a game that gave us confidence." Graham said. "This game is obviously against a quality Big Ten opponent."