The Arizona State Sun Devils started off their bye week on Tuesday with a Thursday-practice feel, something Coach Todd Graham said is necessary to improve fundamental football.
"We call this an extra week, not a bye week so we've got an extra week to really, really focus on the fundamentals and get better," Graham said.
The coaches plan to reverse the normal practice order this week and use the beginning of the week as time to recuperate and focus on fundamentals and special teams and move the regular, up-tempo Tuesday day of work to Wednesday and so on.
While the team gets a little bit of a break physically this week, there's no let-up mentally. Coaches are emphasizing the importance the long-term mentality to their players, while still preaching a nearsighted focus that sees them only looking as far as the next kickoff.
"We can't do anything better than what's in front of us and we got five games ahead of us we need to win," Graham said. "And none more important than Oregon. And we don't control anything but us."
Graham rattled off a list of his top priorities for his Sun Devil football team Tuesday as they began to approach Oregon and nearly every one reverted back to what Graham referred to as "the fundamentals of the game."
"Obviously we have action items that we're working to get better on, communication being one," Graham said. "Obviously ball security and takeaways. One of the things is we're getting an awful lot of TFL and sacks. So we're focusing on that, screen accountability, just fundamentally getting better not stopping our slant, getting better fundamentally blocking up front and getting better with our execution."
One of the things receiver D.J. Foster expressed Tuesday was the hardship offensive coordinator Mike Norvell sometimes faces with his multiple offensive weapons.
"I know Coach Norvell has a tough time, he's struggling with trying to find....I mean we have so many weapons and it is hard when you have so many weapons...but trying to put guys on the field and in position to make plays so he's doing better and we're trying to do our part too," Foster said.
The team played through Demario Richard's absence on Saturday in Utah after the running back went down with an injury against Colorado the previous week. Graham said it's important to be able to create depth and work through and the team struggled with that against the Utes.
"We really missed Demario," Graham said. "That was tough, but that's the nature of the game and we didn't have much rhythm and we are working on that because we need to score points. These guys fought hard and played extremely hard and I'm really proud of that, but we want to get this thing back where it needs to be and that's winning and going 1-0 this next game."
Quarterback Mike Bercovici is focused on just that. Scoring points is something this offense has struggled to do, especially when in the red zone, and Bercovici emphasized the need for an improvement to his red-zone offense on Tuesday.
"It's something that in this conference you need to do," Brecovici said. "As an offense and as a quarterback it's important to get six points and it's execution, it's little things, placement of the football, we have to be able to run the football down there. It's something we're definitely working to improve as we get into the eighth game of the year but it has to be corrected."
Special Teams Evolution
Tim White led the special teams in one of his best games with a 100-yard kickoff return to start ASU's scoring Saturday. The unit averaged 34.2 return yards per kickoff with a total of 171 yards, (169 of them White's) on five kickoffs with one touchdown. On the single punt, De'Chavon Hayes returned the ball 48 yards.
Graham said the unit got off to a slow start at the beginning of the season because it digested so much after bringing in new special teams coach Shawn Slocum. Now, Graham said, special teams is one of the strongest aspects of the game.
"We're playing at a really high level on special teams right now," Graham said. "I'm really proud of the job Coach Slocum's doing and moreover just how our players have bought into it and how hard they're working at it. Tim has been everything I thought he would be. I'm really proud of 'Gump' too. 'Gump' had a really great return the other night that we should've scored on."
Now Graham is focused on making sure his team does score when it should as it moves through this "extra week" the Sun Devils are given.
"We talked about how we're in control of writing the final chapter of the 2015 season," Graham said. "The final chapter has not been written. So there's a lot of work to be done. But our guys have a great attitude to do that."
- Armand Perry and Nick Ralston were both still in green, non-contact jerseys.
- Evan Goodman, Christian Westerman, Nick Kelly, Vi Teofilo and William McGehee made up the first team offensive line line.
- JoJo Wicker, Demetrius Cherry and Tashon Smallwood made up first team d-line with Edmond Boateng rotating in.