TEMPE, Ariz. – With no game to prepare for, the task this week for ASU is twofold: get healthy and maintain momentum.
The former may be easier than the latter.
The extra days will give players time to rest and recover, whether from the rigors of a long season or the typical bumps and bruises from two months of action. For others, it is a chance to heal. Receiver Jaelen Strong rolled his ankle against Washington and did not practice Tuesday. Neither did receiver Rick Smith who missed last week’s game with an undisclosed injury. Meanwhile, running back DJ Foster had his left knee wrapped and appeared to be limited.
“We’re not doing any pounding, but we’re doing a lot of mental stuff,” head coach Todd Graham said of his plans for practice this week.
On the defensive side, freshman safety Marcus Ball, out all season with a shoulder injury, is nearing a return, though Graham had no further update on if he would be available next week at Washington State.
“Obviously, physically, we’ve been through a tough physical run here with all of the teams that we’ve played in the last seven weeks,” Graham said. “This week is big for our preparation and our guys showing the maturity that they can handle this, and then stay sharp mentally and full speed mentally.”
And that is where the biggest challenge lies.
The Sun Devils (5-2) are coming off their most complete effort of the season and perhaps best overall performance since Graham arrived in Tempe. They dominated then-No. 20 Washington, topping 50 points for the second straight week and third time in four games, winning 53-24 at Sun Devil Stadium last weekend.
“I just felt like that there was just a little bit more of a buy in,” Graham said. “I felt a lot of confidence from our team. It was kind of a different Sunday. They kind of felt different to me.
“We really challenged our guys not to lose our momentum by taking the approach that this is an off week,” he continued. “When you do have a bye week, that’s important. You don’t want to lose the momentum you have, and you want to make sure you’re getting better every day. It’s kind of a balance. I think we have a good bead on that, so we’ll see.”
ASU plays its next two games on the road, beginning with Washington State next Thursday, Halloween night.
Washington State (4-4) has lost two in a row and three of its last four. They do, however, have a win at USC, which was ranked No. 25 at the time.
“We’ve got one focus and that’s Washington State,” Graham said. “I think we’ve gotten better every week as a team. We’ve got a shot at (winning the south and playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game).”