TEMPE, Ariz. — Despite his small-program background, Todd Graham is not a proponent of facing schools from college football’s lower ranks now that he’s at Arizona State.
Win and, well, you were supposed to. Lose or even play poorly, things can get ugly. And, regardless of the outcome, the games almost always get sloppy in the second half.
Despite his disdain for facing FCS opponents, Graham didn’t mind the 19th-ranked Sun Devils opening this season against Weber State.
Arizona State won in a blowout, as it should have, but also gave its young defensive players a confidence boost and allowed the entire team a chance to identify areas that need to be worked on before the schedule starts getting tougher.
It was, in other words, almost like a preseason game for the Sun Devils.
“I’m glad we had that opponent first because we needed that kind of experience there,” Graham said Monday.
As openers go, the Sun Devils couldn’t have asked for a much better start against Weber State.
Arizona overwhelmed an overmatched opponent 45-14 and came away relatively healthy.
The offense revved up after some miscues the opening two drives, racing to a 31-0 halftime lead, allowing Graham to rest most of his starters in the second half.
The young defense held up under the bright lights of game pressure, the nine new starters and all those youngsters on the two-deep roster putting pressure on the Wildcats all night.
The next step for the Sun Devils is to build on their opening victory as the schedule ratchets up in intensity.
Arizona State faces tough-to-defend New Mexico in its first road game on Saturday, opens Pac-12 play with Colorado the week after, and then starts a gauntlet of tough games against No. 7 UCLA on Sept. 25.
“This program is about winning championships and you’ve got to be able to go on the road and win,” Graham said. “You’ve got to be undefeated at home and you have to win on the road, and (deal with) the distractions that go with that.”
Arizona State’s defense was solid in the opener, overcoming a few miscues with some big plays, including a goal-line stand in the first half.
Those young Sun Devils will face a much different task in Albuquerque this weekend.
Though the players handled their first game fairly well, this will be their first away from Tempe in a hostile environment.
Arizona State also will be facing an offense that is not easy to defend, even for veteran teams.
Unlike the read-option teams that dot the college football landscape, the Lobos run a more traditional triple option under coach Bob Davie. It’s difficult to stop because few teams run the offense anymore and it requires defenders to stick strictly to their assignments or risk watching the Lobos race off toward the end zone.
New Mexico has become pretty adept at running the triple option, too, finishing fifth nationally in yards rushing last season with just over 300 per game. The Lobos had 410 yards rushing in a 31-24 loss to UTEP last weekend.
“The big thing is discipline and assignments,” Graham said. “Leaving somebody unaccounted for or not taking care of your responsibility, that can’t happen with this offense and that’s a lot of what we’ve talked about.”
Once the talking is over, the Sun Devils will have to execute it. They handled it well against Weber State, but this test could be much more difficult.