Predictions often go awry, but for the Pac-12 South, Arizona State and UCLA were preseason favorites. And as expected, the two will battle it out yet again for a potential conference championship berth. These are the games and moments that define careers.
"That's what you work for all year long. I told the guys today, it's been a long time here since anyone has been in this position," Todd Graham said. "I'm excited for the opportunity. We know it's going to be a challenge, going into the Rose Bowl to the two-time defending Pac-12 South champions [UCLA]. Got a lot of respect for that."
The first goal on the to-do list starts with slowing down UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. One of the biggest dilemmas Hundley presents is because of his dual-threat ability, beating opponents through the air and on the ground. Graham had nothing but positive remarks on Hundley.
"His ability to extend plays in the pocket. There is not another quarterback like it on our league. Big arm," Graham said on Hundley. "The key is no big plays. You just got to keep him contained. Where he hurts you is with his legs and then throwing the ball over the top of you. You got to have a definitive plan for that. He's really strong too. But he is the key to the whole thing."
The emergence of Robert Nelson, who now boasts six interceptions, has helped the defensive unit reach new heights. He will be one of the keys to keeping Hundley under wraps. Nelson gets thrown at often because of the lockdown coverage on the other side by Osahon Irabor. Early on Nelson got burned, yet as of late, he has made opponents pay for that decision.
"Rob is one of my favorite guys. Great kid. Great person. Loves this team," Graham said on Nelson. "He has that look in his eye. He is really a guy that seeks coaching and at times is a challenge to coach. But man, [he has a] great heart and great spirit. To see him grow like that. He has really had two of the most critical plays in the last two games. He's playing phenomenal. Today was the best practice he has had. A guy that really has matured light years. And really proud of him."
The balance of the UCLA attack makes the unit difficult to game plan for. True freshman Myles Jack plays on both sides of the ball, at outside linebacker and running back. Jack has logged only two games in the backfield. In those two games, Jack accumulated 19 carries for 179 yards and five touchdowns.
"We've watched a lot of film on him obviously. We recruited him, so we watched all his high school film as well," Graham said on Jack. "As far as power backs, he is the best power back they have. He is a force to be reckoned with in that power running game that they have added a little bit of a new dimension to their offense. Very, very dynamic running back. Going both ways, I've never seen a freshman do that. We got to tackle and get off blocks."
Throughout the game preparation, Graham continues to drive home certain points. The demand for no penalties, no turnovers and disciplined football remains in tact. At 8-2 overall, most fans are happy with the ASU season. Conversely, the tasks are just beginning for the players and coaches.
"I don't feel like these guys are very satisfied. Our two words have been: humble and hungry," Graham said.
Other practice notes
- Graham announced the players will not be going in pads tomorrow, as he wants them to remain healthy prior to the game at UCLA.
- Spur linebacker and former safety, Laiu Moeakiola, still donned the green non-contact jersey. Moeakiola didn't suit up against Oregon State and remains questionable for this week.
- After getting benched in the middle of the third quarter of the game against Oregon State, Carl Bradford was back at his usual spot. Bradford was verbally fighting with Will Sutton and Graham during the contest, causing him to get benched.
- Scouts from the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and one other unidentified team were in attendance.