With the Arizona State Sun Devils reeling off their fourth straight loss, head coach Todd Graham answered questions from the media for over 15 minutes during his weekly press conference Monday.
Graham discussed his thoughts on ASU’s upcoming matchup with the Washington Huskies, as well as his takeaways following the loss to Utah, and his players.
When asked about the first thing which comes to mind for Graham when discussing Washington, he drew on a couple points.
“I would say explosive plays and defense are the two things when I think of them,” Graham said.
Part of the reason the Washington offense has been so good is because of receiver John Ross, who currently ranks second in the Pac-12 with 896 receiving yards.
“Ross is probably the most dynamic player in our league,” Graham said.
Likewise, the Huskies defense has been just as impressive, allowing only 17.9 points per game, tied for best in the conference.
“They play really good defense,” Graham said. “They’re really physical defensively against the run, and they’re really good at the back end.”
Revering the job Washington head coach Chris Peterson has done, Graham said the Huskies are “very well-coached.”
The Sun Devils led Utah 13-0 after the first quarter before the Utes pulled away, exploiting the ASU secondary.
“The story of the whole game, when you go back and look at the film, my only impression is just big plays,” Graham said. “That’s been the big deal. It’s just frustrating.”
Another contributing factor to ASU’s loss was its inability to win the turnover battle. After coming away with two in the first quarter, the Sun Devils were unable to force any the rest of the way. Graham attributed this year’s low forced-turnover rate to a more conservative defensive approach.
“Obviously when you don’t pressure as much, your ratio of TFLs and sacks and all of that go down, but we got two turnovers I think in the first three series on their end, and only got three points out of it,” he said. “In the end, reviewing the film, we turned the ball over twice. I think that was a huge difference in the game.”
Graham said his team’s morale hasn’t wavered amidst the losing streak.
“There’s no hopeless feeling by me,” he said.” We’re a young football team, we’ve had a massive amount of injuries, and we’ve played some pretty good people down the stretch here. We make no excuses, but we’ve got two more games to play, then we’ll evaluate it when we get done with that.”
It’s no secret injuries have kept ASU from achieving full potential this season. Despite getting a bye week to heal, Graham said several key players still needed time to get fully healthy. He was quick to note a key reason the Sun Devils have fallen victim to the same mistakes throughout the year is a lack of practice reps.
“How you correct mistakes is practice,” Graham said. “So it’s difficult when you’re not able to practice. For the last month, we haven’t had a lot of consistent practice because of (injuries).”
Junior running back Demario Richard missed the entire first quarter against Utah for an undisclosed reason, and finished with only six carries for two yards. When asked about Richard’s status, Graham said he will be “ready to go for Washington.”
As for the quarterback position, Graham said it’s been very tough dealing with absences, and said starting quarterback Manny Wilkins not being “able to practice” as often as Graham would prefer has contributed to miscues.
On the bright side
Graham praised the play of his younger players, noting the youth of players at receiver, offensive line, and tight end, singling out the play of true freshman receiver N’Keal Harry and offensive linemen Steven Miller, Cohl Cabral, Zach Robertson, and Quinn Bailey.
There was plenty of words regarding Harry, who found the end zone on a 31-yard run, completed a 46-yard pass and hauled in over 100 yards receiving for the first time in his career.
“He still is learning,” Graham said. “He’s made progress in his blocking, he’s made progress in his route-running. He’s a guy that has a lot more tools that we can use. He’s a guy that has great promise.”
Overall, the head coach took delight with the positive play he saw out of his younger players.
“There was a lot of individual things that were really impressive,” Graham said.