Arizona State and Notre Dame is not an ordinary out of conference matchup between two teams. It's No. 8 against No. 11 in the AP Poll with early national championship implications. That fact is not lost on the Sun Devils, something head coach Todd Graham made abundantly clear after practice Tuesday.
"That's what you sign up for in big games like this, an opportunity to compete against the best. I think this is the best football team we've played to this point," Graham said. "Obviously coach (Brian) Kelly does a great job of coaching them, but on the same hand we're playing our best football too and with that comes great opportunity."
It's clear the maroon and gold are returning to the basics again in practice, the same routine that got them a victory over Stanford. It could also be a reflection of what the team learned against Utah, watching kicker Andy Phillips miss two kicks allowing Arizona State to win the game. Football is a game won an inch at a time, which can make all the difference. Graham is stressing ball security with Taylor Kelly while making sure the cornerbacks stay fundamentally sound.
"The game is going to come down to four or five fade patterns and two or three post patterns," Graham said. "We come out of that and don't give up any cheap ones? Then we're sitting good."
The main problem Graham wants addressed is the penalties and redzone inefficiency. The Sun Devils had six penalties for 55 yards against the Utes and he noted one in particular at the 1-yard line that set the Sun Devils back. Graham believes the team left a total of 21 points on the board against the Utes, and it's a trend which continues to grow. He wants to stop sooner rather than later. But just because Notre Dame is a different kind of game or the implications are bigger or the opportunity is larger, it doesn't mean things should radically change according to Graham.
"Somebody said the other day, what are you going to do special this week?" Graham said. " I think if you have to do anything special you're in trouble."
- Stephon McCray was still taking the first team snaps at left guard with Christian Westerman in a green jersey. Graham mentioned that Westerman has been running full speed on straightaways and is trying to do some changes in direction. He could see some limited snaps against Notre Dame if he practices this week.
- Graham talked briefly about Taylor Kelly and the rust he had to shake off saying, "He's coming off a broke foot and having surgery and not being able to do a whole lot. He showed great courage and just needs to get his timing back and he played better than he did the week before and he'll continue to improve." This is the first time which Graham has mentioned to the media that Kelly's foot was in fact broken and required surgery. Kelly's injury was never specifically mentioned before Tuesday.
- Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers scouts were in attendance at practice.
- Defensive lineman Demetrius Cherry, who was suspended for the Utah game for a violation of team rules, was back practicing normally Tuesday. Graham said he's not sure whether or not he will play against Notre Dame. Chris Karpman of ASUdevils.com first reported on Twitter just prior to game time against Utah that Cherry had been arrested for a DUI. According to Doug Haller of AZCentral Sports, Cherry's arrest came early Friday morning.