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Ball security at a premium as ASU tries to turn around season at UCLA

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
LISTEN: Todd Graham, ASU football head coach

Since he became the head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils in December of 2011, folks around these parts have become familiar with Todd Graham’s vernacular.

The Texas native “speaks victory,” encourages his team to “embrace the grind” and frequently talks about the high character of the players on his football team.

He also espouses the importance of 100 percent ball security from his offense. While the first two “Grahamisms” are hard to quantify, the fourth-year head coach knows what he’s talking about when it comes to turnovers. Ball security has been a concern for the Sun Devils as they’ve limped to a 2-2 start this season.

Graham is hammering home the point this week as well, as his team gets ready for its Pac-12 road opener against seventh-ranked UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena Saturday afternoon.

“If you turn the football over, you’re just not going to be able to be successful,” Graham told Doug and Wolf Friday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “That one statistic, in this league for the last three years, if you’re plus-three, we’ve won every conference game. If you’re minus-two, you’re going to lose most of them.”

Amen.

In Graham’s tenure on the ASU sideline those numbers hold up. In games where the Sun Devils are plus-two in turnover margin, they’re a spotless 15-0. When opponents are plus-two or more in turnover ratio, the Sun Devils are 2-5.

It’s something that figures huge into the UCLA game. The Sun Devils have been generous with the football, turning it over nine times in four games. To put that into perspective, ASU committed just 13 turnovers all of last season, when they finished 10-3.

“We have uncharacteristically turned the ball over — not only on offense, but in the kicking game — that’s something that we’ve got to get right in a hurry,” Graham said. “We’ve been third in the country in taking care of the football in the last three years — that’s in the nation, not in the conference.”

Arizona State is near the bottom of the national rankings in turnovers, while UCLA has caused seven (three fumble recoveries, four interceptions) on the year.

“If we take care of the ball, if we have 100-percent ball security, that doesn’t mean you’re going to win, it’s still going to be competitive, it’s never been easy,” Graham said. “In this conference, you’re going to go down to the wire most weeks. That’s the biggest thing we’ve got to get corrected is making sure we’re not self-destructing and giving ourselves a chance by not turning the football over.”

Graham’s statement about 100-percent ball security is true — zero turnovers doesn’t guarantee victory — but in his tenure, it’s been close to being a golden rule. The Sun Devils have 11 zero-turnover games under Graham. They’re 10-1 in those contests, with the only loss coming to Stanford in the 2013 Pac-12 Championship Game.

Saturday’s contest kicks off at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard on ESPN Phoenix 620 AM starting with pregame coverage at 2:30.

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