Graham: Turnover battle key to winning Pac-12 games
After giving up a historic offensive performance the last time Arizona State played, this bye week could not have come at a more preferred time.
The Sun Devils are coming off their bye week with a 2-3 record (Pac-12 1-1) and face Washington, a top-five team in the nation, this Saturday, in Tempe. The Sun Devils have not defeated a top-five ranked opponent since 1996.
ASU head coach Todd Graham does have nine wins against ranked opponents and two wins against top-10 team in his five-year tenure, but has lost three games against top-five squads by an average of 17.3 points a game.
In the bye week, Graham wanted to focus on the fundamentals that the team was lacking through the first five weeks of the season.
“The biggest thing is tackling,” Graham said on Doug & Wolf on 98.7 Arizona’s Sports Station. “We’ve done a better job of not giving up, we’re contesting balls down the field. We don’t have a lot of mental errors and guys running free and things like that. The big play pass we have done better on.”
The week before the bye, Stanford running back Bryce Love gashed the Sun Devils for 301 yards, on the ground to go with a 61-yard run in the game.
“Our deal is doing a better job of tackling in space,” Graham said. “We got guys there we’ve got to get him down and tackle him. We worked really, really hard on that. There is two parts to that, one part is to get better fundamentally tackling, but the other part is we got some young guys that I think, athletically, they can help us to be able to have better personnel on the field.”
Washington running back Myles Gaskin will be running in between the tackles this Saturday. He already has 559 rushing yards to go with eight touchdowns on the ground and will serve as a problematic test for the Sun Devils and their tackling woes.
Graham also took the bye week to key in on a pattern that correlates to having success in the Pac-12.
“One thing that is going to win football games in the Pac-12 is, every year I been here it’s just the way it is,” Graham said. “Every week is whatever team that wins the turnover battle that’s the team that wins.”
ASU is tied for first with Stanford for the least amount of turnovers this season with five.
The team does a solid job taking care of the ball, but struggles to impose turnovers with only five takeaways so far in the season. They rank 105th in the country in forcing turnovers and are tied with UCLA at the bottom of the conference.
“We’ve got to get takeaways and how those happen is playing on the offensive side of the ball,” Graham said. “That’s sacks, (tackles for losses) and getting the wide receivers on the wide receivers screens to cut back inside. Get population around the football and the physicality.”
“Those are things we worked really hard on. Discipline fundamentals on defense on getting takeaways.”
The Sun Devils do have the fourth most sacks in their conference with 15 sacks and 32 tackles for losses for the season. Washington has also done a tremendous job so far in taking care of the ball by only giving it up six times all year.
ASU will play Washington in Tempe on Saturday at 7:45 p.m. MST.