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ASU focused on finishing strong starting with ‘great opportunity’ vs. UW

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) is sacked by Utah defensive end Pita Taumoepenu during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Despite losing a fourth straight game last week, Arizona State players showed up for meetings on Monday with a great attitude, according to head coach Todd Graham.

Two more games remain on the schedule with a shot at a third — that is if the Sun Devils can earn a sixth win to become bowl eligible. They’ll need to beat either Washington or rival Arizona, and both those games are on the road.

After a 5-1 start, ASU sits with a .500 record, certainly not what was expected, at least within the football program, here in 2016.

“There’s no hopeless feeling by me. My energy level is just as high as its ever been,” Graham said at his weekly press conference.

The Sun Devils are coming off a loss to No. 13 Utah in which they trailed by two entering the fourth quarter. However, Utah scored 21 unanswered points to exit Sun Devil Stadium with a 49-26 victory, spoiling senior day for the 20 uniformed ASU players.

Once again, turnovers were a factor. Twice the Sun Devils lost the football, including a fourth-quarter interception that resulted in a Utah touchdown and a two-score lead.

Just once this season has ASU had 100-percent ball security and that was Week 2 against Texas Tech.

Through 10 games, the Sun Devils are a minus-three in turnover ratio (14 takeaways vs. 17 giveaways), ranking 10th, tied with Oregon, in the Pac-12. Only Arizona, at minus-eight, is worse.

“That’s the number-one key (to a winning season),” Graham said.

Injuries have also hurt the Sun Devils.

This season, three different quarterbacks have started, only one offensive lineman (left tackle Evan Goodman) has started every game while an already young secondary has been forced to go even younger with cornerback Kareem Orr and safety Armand Perry missing time.

None of which is an excuse, according to Graham.

“That’s one thing that I’m really proud of our guys, there’s not an ounce of give-up in our guys,” he said. “Are there things we got to get better at? Yeah, there’s things we got to get better at, and we know that. But, the number-one factor that’s really been difficult is the amount of injuries. Coming into the season we had a young football team and then—especially the injuries at quarterback is what’s been difficult.”

If Graham is looking for a sliver of hope in an attempt to turn the season around, he need only to look back to his first year at ASU.

In 2012, the Sun Devils lost four in a row after a 5-1 start before rebounding with back-to-back wins over Washington State and Arizona. They then made it three straight victories by beating Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl to finish 8-5.

“I’ve got a great belief in what we’re doing and where we’re going, and I think our players do, too. One thing I am proud of is the character and the intestinal fortitude that our guys have, and they know that the key is we got to work to get better every day,” Graham said.

“We’ve got a great opportunity in front of us to go to Washington and play arguably the best team in our league…a heck of a football team and a great opportunity for our guys to go up and compete; and then obviously, we still got the Territorial Cup. There’s lots of things out there we want to accomplish and build upon.”

EXTRA POINTS

— Though he returned after a one-game absence to throw for 309 yards against Utah, his second 300-yard game of the season, quarterback Manny Wilkins’ health remains in question. He’s dealt with both ankle and shoulder issues, something Graham intimated is still bothering his starting quarterback.

“It’s tough for Manny,” he said. “He hasn’t been able to practice and that’s one of the things that’s really difficult to do.”

— Another key contributor on offense who has missed is running back Demario Richard. He did not play at Oregon, and he didn’t enter the game until the second quarter against Utah. Asked about the Sun Devils’ leading rusher, Graham provided no details.

“He’s ready to go, ready to go for Washington,” he said.

Follow Craig Grialou on Twitter

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