TEMPE, Ariz. — Penalties.
It’s the one thing that may be spoken as much, if not more than, “Pac-12 Championship” and “Rose Bowl” in and around the Sun Devils football team both on and off the field.
A priority in Todd Graham’s first season, he took a team that finished dead last in the country in penalties per game and penalty yards per game in 2011, to one that finished tied for tenth in penalties per game (4.23) and eighth in penalty yards per game (34.92).
The expectations for year two are higher — much higher.
“If a guy gets a penalty, I can assure you how I’m going to respond. It’s going to be extremely negative,” Graham said Wednesday. “That’s the only thing on game day I’m going to get negative about. And you’re not going to stay in. I don’t care who it is. You’re not getting penalties and staying in the game. It’s unacceptable. It will not happen, period.”
Since spring football and on through fall camp, Graham and his staff have gone out of their way to not only discuss penalties, but to teach the players and show them what is acceptable and what is not, either with video or officials at practice.
“It’s not just saying ‘don’t have penalties’ and straining them,” Graham said, “it’s about educating them on the rules and understanding the rules; because inevitably, we’re trying for perfection and we’ll tolerate excellence.
“In my opinion, last year we just met the minimum on discipline.”
ASU last year had just 55 penalties for 454 yards, but according to Graham, they had too many illegal procedure calls on offense and pass interference calls on defense.
“The team that has the most disciplined football team will win this league. We’ve got a lot of work to do with that,” he said.
Roughly a week away from the season opener against Sacramento State, Graham sees an improved team — in all phases, offense, defense and special teams.
The goal: Of course, it’s a Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl.
“We have strained harder than we did last year. The expectations are higher,” Graham said. “The key is to improve every single day. Are we where we need to be? No. But do we have a good football team? Yes.”