The Arizona State Sun Devils are fighting a three-game losing streak as they head into Saturday's contest against Washington and head coach Todd Graham said it all starts with taking care of the football.
"We got three games and the Pac-12 is a war every week and you have to get yourself up mentally and emotionally each time," Graham said. "But I can't tell you that I don't think our guys have done that because I think our guys have played hard these guys have never given up. So now we just have to go out and figure out a way to win a game and the number one way to do that is just not turning the ball over."
Two wins away from bowl eligibility, the Sun Devils are now turning to the one thing they have held constant throughout this disappointing season.
"All we can rely on is staying true to our character and philosophy and then winning takes care of itself," quarterback Mike Bercovici said.
Graham has been here before, namely in the 2012 season when the Sun Devils followed a three-game winning streak with a four-game losing streak only to rebound in the last three games of the season. However Graham said it's not one set tangible thing that one does to rebound a losing streak like this.
"It's not anything you do that week, or anything you do that day," Graham said. "It's a body of work and I remember the first year we had a lot of success early, we were 4-1, and then we just got killed by Oregon and we played some really good people right there.
"But, we got a solid foundation, guys believe in what we're doing, we just have lost three games in the fourth quarter. We got to get that off our back because this team is every bit as good as the three teams we just lost to."
Despite ASU's inability to close games out in the fourth quarter and its surprising losing record, there's still a lot of potential for this program in the coming years. Graham said the growth he has seen in his players this season is among the best he's seen any year.
Offensively, Graham said tight end Kody Kohl, receiver Tim White and offensive lineman William McGehee have shown huge improvement throughout the season. Kohl has reeled in 23 catches so far this season, for 236 yards, four touchdowns and is averaging 26.2 receiving yards a game. White leads the team in all-purpose yards.
On the defensive end Graham praised both defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood and safety Jordan Simone for their contributions to this Sun Devil team. Simone currently leads the country in solo tackles with 70.
"I think on defense Tashon Smallwood's been a guy that's been silently unbelievable, developing into a leader," Graham said. "He gets the defensive line lined up and he's matured tremendously. I think he's probably been a guy that's been a bright, bright spot.
"As of late, I think Jordan Simone's probably played his best football in the last three games. And then there's not anybody on our defensive line that I don't think has improved and worked hard every day."
Graham also highlighted the running back corps this season and said he could not say anything negative about the way his running backs have finished runs and taken care of the ball as of late.
He mentioned both long snapper Mitchell Fraboni as well as his two true freshmen as some of the biggest and most surprising improvements he has seen this season.
"I think JoJo Wicker and Kareem Orr for true freshman have been probably as good as any true freshman we've had," Graham said. "Our deep snapper is probably the best deep snapper I've been around, tremendous in protection and coverage and perfect on all the snaps."'
Todd Graham praised Washington head coach Chris Peterson and says they put a big focus on special teams and trick plays. The Huskies are known for their low-snap games with fewer offensive plays but the Sun Devils are preparing for any scheme the Huskies throw at them.
"They can get exotic," Bercovici said. "They're aggressive defensively. They've obviously performed really well this season, from up front, secondary, linebackers, they've got a really good corps and they play hard. They're in a very similar situation to us, back against the wall, so it's going to be a fun night."
The Huskies are fighting to get to a bowl game as well, heading into the game with a 4-5 record and coming off an 11-point loss to Utah last week. Graham said no matter what Peterson does on Saturday, the Sun Devils have a strict game plan they will try to execute in any situation.
"We're going to be fast," Graham said. "There's been a couple of games where we've, by design, tried to play fewer snaps on defense, but we'll go as fast as we can in this one. I think that some of their low-snap games have been against Stanford and people you're going to have low snap games against, but they're not a 90-snap-a-game team.
"They're not a rapid-fire team. They do go fast, so they'll go fast in certain situations so we got to be prepared for that, but our whole deal going in is we want to play 90 plays on offense and 70 plays on defense so we'll do everything we can to try to manage that."