TEMPE, Ariz. – While fans and media may still be questioning Arizona State’s performance against lower-division Cal Poly, Sun Devil coaches and players have put the game in the rearview mirror.
“We’re moving on (to New Mexico),” head coach Todd Graham said, sounding as if he were channeling his inner-Bill Belichick, a good friend of his. “That’s for you guys to fill up paper and talk about all that crap that don’t matter.”
Saturday’s 35-21 win left a lot people scratching their heads, wondering why a team ranked preseason No. 15 and picked to contend not only in the Pac-12 but for the College Football Playoff was struggling against an inferior opponent.
The Sun Devils (1-1) needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away from Cal Poly.
“It goes down in the column as a win and no one will ever talk about after this week,” Graham said at his weekly Monday press conference. “Bottom line is that all over the country those things happen and you want to persevere and come out of it on top and it will make you a better football team for that.”
“That’s just one you check off the list and you go to the next one.”
Graham praised his special teams unit, a source of angst the week before against Texas A&M, specifically mentioning Zane Gonzalez’s kickoffs and the punting of Matt Haack.
The defense, while giving up 330 total yards, including 284 on the ground, held firm on Cal Poly’s final five possessions of the game.
And the offense stepped up late, but needs to stop putting the ball in jeopardy — four turnovers in the first two weeks — and play at a faster tempo, according to Graham.
With that said, however, “the biggest negative coming out of that game, I’ll you, I’m not worried about anything else…I’m worried about guys getting healthy because we got a lot of people that are not,” Graham said.
A handful of players left the Cal Poly game with one injury or another: junior linebacker Viliami Latu, redshirt junior running back De’Chavon Hayes, redshirt senior right tackle William McGehee, sophomore safety Armand Perry and redshirt senior linebacker Antonio Longino.
Graham did not have an update on those players, but did provide some good news concerning sophomore running back Kalen Ballage, who has missed the first two games because of illness.
“Kalen was at practice today and feeling better,” he said. “I don’t know anything more than that. We’re hoping to get him back sooner than later.”
Not having Ballage and others has led to a constant shuffling of personnel, especially offensively; though that is no excuse for the Sun Devils’ uneven play, according to redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici.
“Guys just have to step up,” he said. “It really is a next man up mentality. (Our play) really hasn’t been affected. At the end of the day, if we do what we have to do, we align right, we do our assignments up front, at receiver, at running back, at quarterback, this offense will get going as we all know.”
The mistakes, Bercovici added, are correctable.
“We got to focus on ourselves…and going into this next week if we do what we have to do, we can take care of business,” he said.
Friday, ASU hosts New Mexico (1-1), a team like Cal Poly that runs the triple option offense. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“This week is big. We need to go out and play our best football game because this is where it’s building up to. After this week, it starts counting and it counts big time,” Graham said, referring to the start of Pac-12 play, which has the Sun Devils tackling USC and UCLA in successive weeks.
“Are we playing our best football? No, we’re not,” Graham added. “We got to get better. We’ve done some good things to this point, but we haven’t played to our potential. We need to get things hitting on all strides instead of playing good here or good there.”