The Arizona State Sun Devils have seen better days under the Todd Graham era.
With three games left in the regular season, the Sun Devils are under .500 for the first time in three years under Graham (not including ASU's opening-season loss to Texas A&M last September). The team just suffered another disappointing loss to the Washington State Cougars. In the postgame press conference, Graham called it the worst defensive second half he's ever coached.
"I was probably exaggerating...I was just frustrated probably after the game, and I want to make sure I'm very clear about [that] the season is not over," Graham said in Monday's weekly presser following up on Saturday's statement. "I've said this has been a disappointing season to this point, which was left out. And it has been."
Graham approached every question regarding ASU's disappointing year with humility. Although he said the most surprising aspect of the season is how the Sun Devils have been losing close games, Graham didn't attack any of his players or staff. He applauded safety Jordan Simone for having his best game of the season and commended Ismael Murphy-Richardson for stepping up at Devilbacker for the injured Anthony Longino. He said he thought the defense defended Washington State well, but slant passes and seven small, but critical errors costed him the game.
Graham did have a reason to smile on Monday, though. Just an hour before he spoke, Chandler High School running back Chase Lucas, a four-star prospect, announced his commitment to the Sun Devils. Exactly a week earlier, five-star wide receiver N'Keal Harry, Lucas' teammate at Chandler and Arizona's No. 1 high school recruit, committed to the Sun Devils.
Although Graham couldn't directly address Harry and Lucas' commitments, Graham opened up about his increased strategy to recruit locally. He understands Arizona State fans may feel inclined to cheer a little louder for D.J. Foster from Scottsdale than for Cameron Smith from Texas.
Graham said the team has now cemented values and objectives within the program that it could be used to entice athletes who are "within a gas tank away."
"Arizona State football — what's it all about? Well, it wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the people who buy the tickets and come and support, and especially for the people who have been doing it for 30, 40, 50 years, and families," Graham said. "So OK, so that's who I represent and what we're about, and then you try to get out and try to look at how do they want to be represented and all that stuff, but it just makes sense that this is Arizona State University, so why wouldn't you have the best and the brightest from right here in the state, right here in this valley? And that's easier said than done because there's a lot of really, really quality programs and quality players, and obviously it's heavily recruited nationally."
It's been a rollercoaster of emotions for everyone around Arizona State. While Graham continues to admit this season has been a failure, there's still a lot to play for.
Win the last three games for the veterans. Beat the Arizona Wildcats. Reach the bowl game. Continue recruiting Arizona's finest. Reload for next season and beyond.
"We've still got work to do as a program, but our program is we've established some values and established a reputation of how we do things, and just what we're doing as far as graduating our players and what we have to offer as a program, as a University," Graham said. "I think it's everything. We constantly are focusing on winning in everything we're doing, whether it be on the field or off the field or recruiting or whatever it might be. I feel good about where we are as a program."