Two games, two losses. That's how the 2013 season went for Arizona State when they played Stanford. The Sun Devils were embarrassed in Palo Alto by a score of 42-28 and lost in the Pac-12 Championship game at Sun Devil Stadium 38-14. The latter is still a sore spot for Graham and his team.
"I walk by that sign upstairs that says '87, '97 and then it's blank," Graham said referring to the Sun Devils Rose Bowl appearances. "I walk by it and I'm like ‘man one more and they're going to put that up there' so that hurt, that hurt a lot."
The maroon and gold will face an intelligent team with a recent history of knowing how to beat Graham and the Sun Devils. Among the "boxes" that Graham mentioned Arizona State must "check" to win the game included special teams and 100 percent ball security. While they are the Sun Devils enemy this week, Graham still thinks the two teams have a lot of similarities and Arizona State can learn a lot from how the Cardinal play.
"Our guys know that this week is character vs. character, smart vs. smart, discipline vs. discipline, toughness vs. toughness and these guys have our respect," Graham said. "They are the two-time defending champion and they define those four things and that's what we're trying to do."
They'll face a Stanford team that is first in the country in points against and is currently holding defenses to under 200 yards per game passing and under 100 yards per game rushing. Meanwhile Arizona State is ninth in the country in passing yards and No. 14 in points for, which means something will have to give on one side.
"We know what we're going to get. We know they're going to be well-coached, we know they're going to run the ball and we know we have to attack," junior quarterback Mike Bercovici said. "We're going to have to go out there and prove ourselves. We're not going to get cheap ones. We're going to have to earn everything that we can."
Another Taylor Kelly update
Kelly once again practiced in a green no contact jersey with full pads. He didn't participate in any drills outside of ball security. He watched from the sidelines as the offense practiced 11 on 0 offense with Bercovici at the helm. Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell both mentioned that Kelly got reps, but if he did, it wasn't during the portion of practice media was allowed to view. Norvell wouldn't go as far as to say whether those reps were with the first or second team.
"We expect him to play," Graham said of Kelly. "If I left it up to Taylor? You know he's all ready to go, but we're also going to be careful. I think he'll play, I think Mike (Bercovici) will play too."
Graham added that Kelly's role remains undefined headed into Stanford.
"We've got a long week before we kick off," Norvell said. "We'll continue to track it and we'll continue to go from there."
Kyle Middlebrooks returning punts
Damarious Randall has struggled at punt return so far this season, so much so that the Sun Devils are giving redshirt senior Kyle Middlebrooks a hard look there this week. He returned punts Tuesday while Damarious Randall was positioned at gunner on punt coverage. Middlebrooks has been working with graduate assistant Aaron Pflugrad catching punts. Graham also mentioned in his weekly Monday press conference that Middlebrooks would get a more serious look there. Middlebrooks had five kick returns for 131 yards against USC.
"When you get an opportunity like this like for me last weekend, you gotta take your opportunities in full stride and that's what I did," Middlebrooks said. "Hopefully I can help my team out by catching some punts and returning some balls. Obviously I've had a lot of ups and downs, but it's all about staying positive."
- Taylor Kelly remains in a green no contact jersey as does Laiu Moeakiola. Viliami Latu is now out of his green jersey but still has a sizable brace on his left knee.