Coming off of a season-opening 44-13 win over FCS opponent Northern Arizona, the Arizona State Sun Devils now prepare for a contest with Texas Tech this coming Saturday.
ASU head coach Todd Graham spoke to the media during his weekly Monday press conference, and discussed his thoughts on his team’s Week 1 performance and what to expect going into their matchup with the Red Raiders on Saturday. Below, we break down what was said.
Week 1 Reflection
Their quarterback (Case Cookus) is really, really good at taking care of the football. They’ll do well. They’re always a class group of guys.
Graham noted that despite being an FCS opponent, the Lumberjacks held their own despite being overwhelmed by ASU. He noted that their big-armed quarterback Cookus (who threw for 369 yards and one touchdown) did well protecting the football.
On SPUR Marcus Ball’s targeting call
I’ll leave that to the officials. The thing that you have to look at on those is the safety of players. He did not launch at his head, but if you hit with the crown of your helmet it’s also considered targeting. And it’s for safety, so I had no problem with that because they’re trying to protect the players. I would agree with protecting our guys the best they can.
Graham had a genuine and wise response to the ejection decision. His team will be without its starting SPUR in Ball for the first half of their game against Texas Tech on Saturday.
On LB Christian Sam returning this week
I sure hope so.
Still no update on Sam, who left ASU’s win over NAU after sustaining an injury as the victim of clipping penalty during the first quarter before returning to the sideline sporting a walking boot.
On how ASU played on offense
The bottom line, what matters is where we’re at and what we think. We would’ve liked to have scored on every drive. We scored on the last seven drives we had. We ran the ball into eight- and nine-man fronts, and we did that by design, and we are going to be committed to running the football.
For those of you who were unhappy with how ASU earned the victory in Week 1, here’s your explanation. After walking down the field for a touchdown on their opening possession, the Sun Devil offense’s focus became on working on plays against actual competition. It was by design.
On how ASU played on defense
One of the things is, they were getting the ball out in two seconds. Even when they weren’t—when they were holding the ball—they were blocking seven-on-four. And normally when that happens we’ll bring more pressure and do different things, and we were disciplined about what our plan was and what we wanted to do.
Graham’s defense appeared to take a much more conservative approach than what we’re accustomed to, and that was confirmed today. Expect more pressure to come against Texas Tech.
On how ASU earned the result
There were lots of things out on the field that we could’ve done. It’s not like we weren’t trying to do that, but we’re 1-0.
It amazes me. We’re 1-0. We won 44-13. We gave up 13 points. We’re gonna go into the next week. I don’t get it. We’re 1-0. I told my players half the teams in the country would like to be 1-0. In college football there’s not much difference in what people think. You’ve gotta occupy a lot of time and space with things. But I’m pleased with where we’re at, And do we have a lot of work to do? Yes, we do.
Yes, the Sun Devils only led 10-3 at halftime. Yes, the Sun Devils didn’t exactly dominate in the fashion fans would like. Yes, the Sun Devils are 1-0. And no, Graham doesn’t care what anyone has to say regarding how they got there. They won. They’re 1-0. Essentially, any worry about the sky falling this early isn’t warranted.
On QB Manny Wilkins’ performance
One of the best things I think Manny did was—and this is one thing coach Lindsey does a great job with—is just the conversation in-between the series, listening to the instructions, the adjustments that were being made, and just taking what they give us.
We could’ve thrown the ball a lot more than we did. And we didn’t. Obviously, there’s some things we wanted to establish and do, but we wanted to run the football. I think he did some really nice things running the football; made some very nice decisions there.
I talked to him about Taylor (Kelly’s) first game, and about Mike (Bercovici’s) first game, and how that went. I think for his first game, he learned a lot, and I think he did a solid job.
Some of the things I think I was the most impressed with him was his poise. Really just the way him, Chip and Brady (White) communicated, it’s really nice. ... I like Manny’s leadership is what I’m saying. He has a lot of tools—he really does.
Wilkins may have thrown an interception on his second pass of the game, but he finished with an efficient stat line, throwing for 180 yards on 20-of-27 passing. He did what was asked, and that’s exactly what he needs to do in order to lead this offense.
On offensive line, I thought Quinn Bailey was a guy that stood out to me. It was interesting, I told (offensive line coach Chris) Thomsen that I thought it was (former ASU guard) Christian Westerman a couple of times. They’re very similar in their stances and their mannerisms. He’s got a ways to go o get the experience and knowledge that Christian was at, but I thought he had his best game.
High praise from Graham for Bailey. ASU rushed for 276 yards and five touchdowns in the win over NAU with Bailey creating from the right side of the line.
I thought Renell (Wren), George (Lea) are guys that got better every play. ... I thought those two guys stood out and did some really nice things. Really good effort there. And I thought D.J. (Calhoun) did some nice things.
Wren (team-high two tackles for loss) and Lea were the two players along the defensive front that impressed their head coach, while Calhoun (team0high seven tackles) did well despite the absences of his fellow starters Salamo Fiso and Sam.
Week 2 Expectations
On Texas Tech offense & QB Patrick Mahomes
It’s an Air Raid system. They’re very, very well coached, and (Mahomes) really understands the system. He’s big. He’s hard to tackle. He has a very quick release, and they spread you all over the place, so obviously the strength of their team is their offense and their ability to score points. So it’ll be a big challenge.
(Mahomes is) probably as good as a quarterback as there is out there. He’s gotta be one of the best, if not the best in the Big 12. Gotta be up there because he is a phenomenal player.
The Sun Devils will have to deal with an explosive Red Raiders offense that exploded for 758 yards and 69 points against Stephen F. Austin during Week 1. Mahomes alone was responsible for 540 (483 passing, 57 rushing) and six touchdowns.
On Texas Tech HC Kliff Kingsbury’s version of the Air Raid
I think (Kingsbury) is a great coach. Does a tremendous job. There’s different (versions). You know Dana (Holgersen) got a different form at West Virginia. Mike (Leach) is ... to me, the traditional way of doing it. They’ve all added different wrinkles and things to it, but I’d say that Texas Tech is more pure and very similar to Washington State.
Last season, ASU finished 0-3 against teams that implemented a form of the revolutionary offensive scheme (at Washington State, at Cal, vs West Virginia). Although Texas Tech’s version utilized the run more often last season, Graham says Kingsbury’s version most resembles Leach’s at Washington State, which is very pass heavy.
The Red Raiders finished with 71 pass attempts in their Week 1 win over Stephen F. Austin; they ran 99 plays in a game they led 45-3 at the half.