Arizona State Sun Devils coach Todd Graham responded vehemently for the first time Tuesday after the cheating allegations that surfaced from Utah and Oregon, accusing ASU of stealing signs during games. Now Cougars' coach Mike Leach is saying ASU should be investigated for the issue.
"Investigate us," Graham said. "We do things by the rules. Do we steal signals? Yeah we do. Do people steal our signals? Yeah they do. Do people see our signs and the things that we do? It's our responsibility to make sure that our signals are safe. By rule you can't video somebody else's signals. You can't record their audio. That's it.
"So there's nothing illegal about that. From the time I've been coaching we've been able to get their groupings during games, see what their formation is and we've had times this year where we've had a quarterback or a tackle give things away, It's part of the game so I don't understand all that I mean we're definitely going by the rules and there's not anything illegal about looking at somebody's signals. Plus, we actually lost the game. Both those games. So it's not very relevant."
Players trying to maintain focus amid disappointment
The Sun Devils are battling to reach bowl eligibility as they head into Saturday's road contest against Washington State with a 4-4 record (2-3 in the Pac-12). After three days off, the team was admittedly a little sluggish Tuesday, but coach Todd Graham said his squad was able to pick up the tempo by the end of practice.
This is not the place these Sun Devils wanted to be in after starting the season projected as a Pac-12 South leader. Now, the players on this team are trying to do everything they can to maintain their focus and their composure as they head into the final four games of the 2015 season where they will do everything they can to let the cards fall as they may.
"It's tough because I see how hard we're playing out there and I'd be upset and frustrated if our guys were not playing with a lot of effort, but we're out there playing our butts off and I know a lot of guys are frustrated, but I'm just trying to tell them just keep pushing, keep motivating each other," wideout D.J. Foster said.
Foster says the one thing that has remained consistent is the leadership and the resilience by younger teammates to play for their graduating counterparts.
"We understand how tough it is and we understand it sucks," Foster said. "But, our coaches and leaders are doing a great job keeping us focused and the young guys are going out there and playing their butts off for guys like me and Berco and a lot of the seniors that have been a part of this program for years. It just shows our comradery and our closeness as a team and we definitely play for each other."
ASU lost 61-55 in heartbreaking fashion to Oregon Thursday night in triple overtime after Mike Bercovici was intercepted in the end zone to end one of the hardest fought games of the Sun Devils' season.
While the defense did a solid job closing up the holes for short gains and stuffed the Ducks on several third-and-1 plays, it allowed Oregon to stretch the field, many times on blitzes that left receivers wide open down field.
"We turned a lot of guys loose and made a lot of mental mistakes," Graham said. "I felt like there were some problems where the other night we left a guy in coverage when we were trying to pressure them. We made some mistakes because they were going fast and so we were trying to eliminate big plays and we sacked the quarterback but if we sacked him every time we hit him it would've been a whole bunch. I think we'd have five or six sacks and a whole bunch of TFLs in the end but who cares about that. What matters is winning."
One thing that was going right for the Sun Devils was the offense, and that seemed to be in large part due to Foster being rotated back into a two-back set with running backs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard.
The Sun Devils rushed for 344 yards to Oregon's 186.
"Our tempo and our confidence moving the ball was great," Foster said. "I thought we ran the ball well and I think all the backs, me, Kalen, and Demario, everybody did their turn and I thought Demario and Kalen played great and I loved seeing them run."
Foster says his experience at wideout makes playing slot receiver a lot easier as well, something that allowed him to gain 87 receiving yards on six catches.
"You can see different coverages and I definitely can read the defense a lot better from seeing it on a wideout's perspective so it's definitely helped me a lot."
Margin of Error
The biggest difference from this season as compared to last season, Graham said, is the inability of ASU to finish out close games, especially in overtime.
Last year, ASU was down to Washington State 21-7 at halftime and came back to win. Then there was the last second field goal to Utah in overtime and the unforgettable "Jael Mary" to sneak past USC. This year, ASU has been on the other sides of those close games and Graham says it's all because of the miniscule margin of error within the Pac-12.
"The reality is last year we won the games that we played in overtime and we've lost a couple of close games," Graham said. "Obviously there's different things each year, different personnel. Sometimes you're playing better on one side and not this side and you know every week in the Pac-12 is going to be the same way. So the margin for error is so small and that's the difference between winning and losing in this league because there's such parity you have to bring it. What we have to do is focus on us and make sure every person's accountable for their leadership, for their energy, for their focus, for doing their job. That's the key for us."
When every game comes down to inches, it's most important to show resilience in character and spirit moving forward. While many of these players are certainly not where they might have thought they would be, the captains of this Sun Devil team are using their leadership to unite a squad that still has a lot to show. When asked how defensive captain Jordan Simone would characterize this season he didn't hesitate for a second.
"It's not over," Simone said. "So I'm going to wait out four weeks here and then I'll give you an answer."
- Armand Perry was out of his green non-contact jersey
- Salamo Fiso was in pads but was also in green.
- First team tempo defense included Viliami Latu, Tashon Smallwood, Salamo Fiso, Gump Hayes, Antonio Longino, Christian Sam, Lloyd Carrington, Jordan Simone, Laiu Moeakiola and Kareem Orr.
- Devin Lucien pulled down a wide-open pass along the sidelines to score first on second team tempo offense.