It's next to impossible to stay mentally stable during the week of the Territorial Cup, but Todd Graham and his coaching staff are doing all they can to make sure the team stays level-headed. It's a delicate balance between understanding the gravity of the game, but not over hyping the game so much where the team has nothing left once they get on the field.
"So many people think you rally up to play a big game, but if you do that, you're never going to be successful," Graham said Tuesday after practice. "It's what you do everyday. What you see on the field, what these guys accomplish on the field is just a byproduct of how they do everything they do."
Friday's game is already shaping up to be one of the most important Territorial Cup games in recent memory. If Stanford upsets UCLA, the Pac-12 South crown and a birth in the Pac-12 Championship Game could be on the line late Friday afternoon in Tucson. A victory by Todd Graham would also make him the first ASU head coach to ever win his first three games against the Wildcats.
"We don't ever try to get to high or too low," Graham said. "The key, if you notice when our guys come out of the locker room, no matter where their at, their all arm in arm, they understand that we're a link in a chain and our strength is in each other."
Don't get confused, staying off an emotional roller coaster doesn't mean the team still isn't excited for Friday's game.
"We are always going to be passionate and intense, but we're also going to be very disciplined," Graham said. "That's what we've always done, especially in these big games is focus. I don't have to worry about giving a motivational speech and don't get distracted by all the other stuff."
It was just two weeks ago that ASU learned first hand what happens when a team is too high after a big win as was the case for the Sun Devils after the Notre Dame game before falling to Oregon State the next week. Graham admitted then that he didn't have the team well prepared, now he'll have another chance to make sure he has his team ready.
What Graham counts on is what he called a culture of wanting the best and not accepting the worst, something that creates consistency among his teams.
"All the other stuff around the game is for the pageantry of it, it's for the fans," Graham said. "We need to stay focused on the job at hand and that's fundamentally executing our scheme and being prepared for the adversity that always comes in these games and it's how you respond to that."
This team in particular is young, but one that has grown tremendously this year. Friday they'll need to lean on their leadership in a hostile environment. It starts on offense with Taylor Kelly and D.J. Foster.
"For us we just got to go out there and we can't get too high emotionally or get too low," Kelly said. "Our guys are going to be ready, it's going to be a great bus ride down there and I'm exited to get going and start it up at 1:30."
- Graham said, "No doubt in my mind" that Jaelen Strong would play against Arizona.
- Taylor Kelly added he feels the closest to 100 percent that he has since he broke his foot against Colorado.
- What is everyone thankful for this Thanksgiving? Todd Graham: Faith, family and football family. Taylor Kelly: Teammates, family and everything they've done for me this year. Foster: My family, my team and just being a part of this community means a lot and just how much support we've gotten from the community in the last couple years that I've been here.
- Graham added the team would be able to spend time with family on Wednesday afternoon. Thursday the team will have a Thanksgiving lunch together.