The countdown continues to the Pac-12 Championship game and as Arizona State wrapped up its week of practice Thursday morning, Todd Graham stressed the fact that Arizona State is the challenger on Saturday night.
Despite having home field advantage and being a three-point favorite in some Las Vegas sports books, the Arizona State head coach believes his team has to be twice as good as Stanford come Saturday.
"We're the contender, they are the defending champions," said Graham. "We have to be twice as focused, twice as prepared and we have to handle adversity."
Graham said he gave the team the same speech going into the UCLA game. Arizona State took the roll of the challenger against the defending Pac-12 South champion Bruins.
"You have to want it more and you have to take it," said Graham. "You look at that game (UCLA) and how hard fought that game was. It wasn't easy."
Keys to the Game
Todd Graham gave out his keys to an Arizona State victory Thursday morning. They center around special teams and running the football. In their last meeting, Zane Gonzales missed his only field goal attempt and punter Matt Haack averaged just 38.8 yards per punt.
Arizona State also had the failed punt that resulted in a Stanford safety at the end of the first half.
"I think the key to the game is going to be special teams," said Graham. "Field position is going to be big. Last time that was the major difference in the game. They dominated the game in special teams."
Another key component in Saturday's game will be the running game. The Sun Devils mustered just 50 rushing yards against Stanford in September. Some of that stems from Arizona State falling behind 29-0 and some of that stems from Stanford having the nation's No. 5 rushing defense.
"The team who runs the ball is going to win this game," said Graham. "They are the best defense we have played all year. They really, really smart and that group has been together for a long time."
- Marion Grice was on crutches as he left the field after Thursday's practice.
- Todd Graham said that the athletic department has been helping out the students camped outside of Wells Fargo Arena by bringing them food and coffee. According to Graham, the athletic department brought the students breakfast burritos and tomorrow they will be bringing them donuts in the morning.
- Graham hasn't really noticed the new signage around the stadium. "I just like the fact that it says Pac-12 Championship game and we are in it."