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ASU Football: Sun Devils enter 'different season' with conference play

The Sun Devils established a sense of urgency in their practice before Saturday's conference opener against USC.

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Headed into this weekend's nationally-televised showdown against the USC Trojans, the Arizona State Sun Devils took to the Verde Dickey Dome on Thursday to work out any final kinks before Saturday's tilt.

While the matchup is just the first of a loaded conference schedule, the magnitude of Saturday's game is fully understood by the Sun Devils.

"We got four senior DBs and I was just talking to them about savor(ing) the moment," head coach Todd Graham said. "Create the moment. you're never gonna pass this way again, you're never gonna play in this game ever again. I'd kill to play in it. I think this has a chance to be one of the best atmospheres we've ever had at Sun Devil Stadium.

"We call it a different season. I won't even tell you what I'd call the first three games." Graham continued. "It is all about development. yes you wanna win, yes you wanna win with style points, yes you wanna do well, but you do everything you do the entire year to get the Pac-12 title. It is the hardest thing in the world to bring it every single week, and that's what you have to do in this league."

When asked about the similarities in talent and scheme between the Texas A&M's pro-style offense (which the Sun Devils faced in Week 1) and the Trojans' pro-style scheme, Graham was quick to point out the talent disparity at one vital position.

"This offense can run the ball," Graham said. "They got four, five running backs as good as we'll play against. Big, physical upfront with the offensive line. They do remind me of the (Texas A&M) receivers."

Zane Gonzalez has recently made the transition to kickoffs after Matt Haack was the previous kickoff specialist. With Gonzalez taking over, keeping the ball away from USC all-around star Adoree Jackson is his top priority.

"That guy's a weapon. You have no idea how important (good kickoffs are)," Graham said. " (Jackson's) the best kick returner in the country, maybe the best I've seen in a long time."

Berco ready for conference play

Saturday's tilt will represent the first time that quarterback Mike Bercovici will take the field against a team he's played against before, and what a game to reminisce on. But Bercovici's focus Thursday was squarely on the 2015 Trojans.

"If we had to suit up right now and head out Tillman Tunnel, we're ready to go right now," Bercovici said. "It's getting to that point of the season where we have game film from last year. it's just fun knowing that you'll be competing at the highest level across the country Saturday night. You gotta warp your mind from what happened last year and the year before that and you gotta come out here humble, focused and feed off the crowd.

Despite a non-conference schedule that exploited many ASU weaknesses, the Sun Devils and their quarterback are ready for the rigors of conference play.

"We learned a lot in the first three games about us, we know we're a championship caliber team," Bercovici said. "It's time to play Sun Devil football."