Heading into the fourth quarter against Utah, the Arizona State football team was in need of a wake-up call. The Sun Devils trailed the Utes 19-7 and the offense looked listless throughout most of the afternoon.
Head coach Todd Graham said the coaching staff began preaching about the values of the Sun Devil football program at halftime of the game. Arizona State prides itself on character, toughness and passion among other ideals, and Graham said that a team's identity is revealed when its back is up against the wall.
"We have one identity and that identity is exposed when you face adversity," Graham said. "So if you're not prepared for that, and you're not trained, you're in trouble."
In the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils proved they were trained to respond to adversity when they completed a late comeback and escaped with a 20-19 victory. Graham said he wasn't satisfied with his team's discipline on Saturday, but he was impressed with his players' improvement.
"We just continue to get better," Graham said. "Early in the year, there were times where we were giving up because of misalignment. A lot of it was perimeter runs and we had some deficits."
The Sun Devils were able to turn the deficit they faced against Utah around because of their commitment to their core values. Led by Will Sutton and Marion Grice, Arizona State owned the final frame in Salt Lake City and showed that it's finally building on the values Graham laid out when he arrived in Tempe.
"Somebody asked me, 'You do that everyday? Character, tough, smart, passionate.' No. We aspire to do it everyday," Graham said. "Get knocked on our butt most days and get up the next day and go at it."
At 7-2, Arizona State looks forward to hosting Oregon State on Saturday. Graham believes the Sun Devils have room for growth and that his team is just hitting its stride. If the Sun Devils really are gaining momentum, they'll be able to look back at the end of the season at the fourth quarter of the Utah game and recognize the comeback as a turning point in their season.