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ASU’s Todd Graham sees improvement on both sides of ball in USC win

LISTEN: Todd Graham- ASU head coach

It’s been a tale of two second halves in Arizona State’s last two football games. Against UCLA, ASU gave up five touchdowns in the final half, falling 62-27.

Against USC, the Sun Devils scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes — including Jaelen Strong’s catch of Mike Bercovici’s Hail Mary pass — to come back and claim the 38-34 victory.

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham was impressed with his team’s improvements, especially of the defense and backup quarterback Mike Bercovici.

“I thought (Bercovici) did a solid job in his first start,” Graham told Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “Lots of great things, the guy’s unbelievably talented throwing the football and he has an understanding of our offense. But he put the ball in jeopardy.”

Graham was referring to Bercovici’s two interceptions against UCLA, including one that was returned 95 yards for a touchdown at the end of the first half.

“No matter how many yards you throw for, we don’t care about that,” Graham said. “We care about winning games, and winning games is 100 percent ball security. You don’t turn the ball over, you can win football games, especially in our system and what we do.”

Bercovici had a much different game against USC, throwing 510 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Sun Devils had a turnover-free game against USC after committing four against UCLA.

“He just corrected the things and he got better from the week before and he didn’t put the ball in jeopardy, and that’s what we talk about,” Graham said. “If we have 100 percent ball security, we’ll win every game we’re in, and that’s a fact. That’s the thing I was most proud of him. I thought he played fantastic.”

Graham has also taken notice of the development of ASU’s young — and sometimes troubling — defense.

He said the defense was “out of control” against UCLA, but called it “solid” on Saturday.

“I’m very, very proud of our guys. I thought we’ve seen great growth.”

Graham singled out the improved play of many of the team’s freshmen defensive players.

“We’ve got three or four true freshmen out there, with (D.J.) Calhoun, (Tashon) Smallwood, Christian Sam, Armand Perry, all guys that are playing quite a bit that are getting better,” Graham said. “But I really thought that Smallwood and Calhoun really stepped up and played their best game and are starting to mature for us. So that’s encouraging.”

Graham sees Saturday’s victory as a good sign for the team moving forward.

“I like where we’re at,” he said. “I know we’re a team that’s very motivated. I love coaching these guys, the heart and the character they have is tremendous.

“We’re right where we need to be. We’ve just got to continue to get better.”