Arizona State Sun Devils Coach Todd Graham and his team remained positive at practice Tuesday despite the 42-14 blowout loss to the USC Trojans Saturday. Graham is notorious for his optimism, even amidst a sea of negativity and claimed Tuesday's practice was "the best practice we've had all year."
However, today Graham also admitted his disappointment.
"I expect our fans to be disappointed," Graham said. "I'm disappointed. I was disappointed last year when we lost 62-27 the fourth game of the season [against UCLA]. We've driven expectations up for a reason. Those standards are hard. We know that where we're at has everything to do with us, both players and coaches. But we have to go out there and win."
Wide receiver D.J. Foster is a veteran leader of this Sun Devil team and has been in this spot before. Both his freshman and sophomore seasons, Foster went into the fourth game of the season 2-1. Last season he remembers the sting of a 62-27 loss on home turf to UCLA. He's been here before and knows that the journey to playoffs is one that isn't determined by the first three games of the season.
"A lot of our guys that were around for those games we know what it's like and what it takes to come out here and clear your mind and have a new focus and a new energy," Foster said. "And a lot of the young guys are feeding off us and it's a long season, especially in the pac-12, especially in the south, you're never out of it so we just got to continue to fight everyday and today I thought we did that."
‘Gump' Hayes to cornerback?
The media saw a new development in the Sun Devil defense during tempo today and it came in the form of running back De'Chavon Hayes getting first team reps at cornerback.
"I got a call Sunday night and they said, 'We'd love for you to go both ways for us,'" Hayes said. "I was actually going to commit to Clemson as a defensive back, and at defensive back, you just got that swagger and everything is up to you to make the plays and it's just that aggression."
Hayes played cornerback in high school as well as spent a little time there in his JUCO days. "Gump" has struggled so far in making a big enough impact at running back, which is one of the deepest positions on the Sun Devil offense, averaging only 10 rushing yards per game.
Hayes welcomes the change knowing it could make him more marketable to a professional audience.
"Yeah I feel like I got one year left so NFL scouts that are checking me out saying ‘hey he can play both ways and he can put everything on the field' so I'm just trying to manage both offense and defense," Hayes said.
Right now it's unclear whether this will be a permanent spot for Hayes. Graham seemed to view the switch as more of an injury driven decision, however he also alluded to the fact that this could be an unforeseen advantage.
"Lloyd (Carrington) is a little banged up so we need bodies," Graham said. "I think Lloyd will be okay but I do think Gump will still have his package on offense and we kind of shared him a little bit today. But he might be playing the nickel a little bit. He's really athletic and sometimes when you have necessity you find something that might work out really helping you so we're giving him a look. He can really cover."
The return of Ballage
Two-way player Kalen Ballage played his first game Saturday after recovering from a recent bout of mononucleosis.
Ballage took to Facebook this weekend after the disheartening loss to express the importance of having his team's fans stick around until the end of the game despite the score. While many fans were angered and saw Ballage's remarks as a reprimand of Sun Devil nation, he said he received only positive support about the remarks and clarified his love for the fan base in practice Tuesday.
"When you play this game you just have so many emotions and there's ups and downs and football ‘s a roller coaster for 60 minutes," Ballage said. "But, I love our Sun Devil fans and for us to get beat like that and I think they're just a part of this team."
Ballage was getting reps at both Devilbacker and running back before he went out with mono and many are wondering where and when he may see time at defense again. Ballage got reps on special teams against USC and said while he's focusing on that he also knows Graham is full of surprises and that fans could see him back on defense very soon.
For now Ballage said the key to success is simple: Remembering what the game is about and let everything else come to him,
"It's been a stressful time for us, we weren't exactly where we wanted to be and we expected to be 4-0," Ballage said. "But it's easy to forget that football is about fun and that camaraderie of being with your teammates and the fans. We always want to make it to the league and may think about money and ‘how can I make this play and this play' and I think if you just relax and play football those things will come to you."
The Sun Devils now turn their heads toward the UCLA Bruins, a team that D.J. Foster said has uncanny speed in the secondary. Graham sees UCLA as the "top of the pack" and a team that perhaps has an unrivaled defense with players that are the best in the nation.
"This is the best football team that we play," Graham said. "How they play together, how they play special teams. Right now they're undefeated in the south and they're playing the best and they're the team to beat and we gotta go into their place and play our best game."
Foster put his focus toward the receiving corps and said that the offense needs to rely on the running game while getting open on routes and taking shots that will make it easier for quarterback Mike Bercovici and the offensive line.
"I think our whole offense can elevate our game," Foster said. "We need to tap into our potential. But, I mean, shoot I love this. This is my last year and a lot of these guys' senior years and that's what I was telling these guys in the game. I looked at Christian (Westerman) and said, ‘let's just go play man, at the end of the day we gotta go play and stick together as a team and have fun because who knows how many days we have left of this game.'"
- Frederick Gammage was still in his green non-contact jersey.
- Armand Perry was off crutches but still in his walking boot.
- Devin Lucien and Lloyd Carrington were both practicing without green jerseys.
- Evan Goodman, Christian Westerman, William McGehee, Vi Teofilo and Stephon McCray all got first-team offensive line reps.
- Eric Lauderdale, Gary Chambers and D.J. Foster were first team wide receivers with Raymond Epps at tight end.
- Hayes was on first team defense at cornerback and was being praised by coaches for strong coverage that broke up the first play of the day.