Location, location, location; Arizona State points to coordinators’ position for better play

Oct 7, 2015, 3:43 PM
Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell cheers on his offensive unit during the first half...
Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell cheers on his offensive unit during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. – On the surface the move looked more cosmetic than anything else.

Because, really, does it matter whether a coach is on the field or up in the press box calling plays?

Location is paramount in real estate, but football?

Yes, according to Arizona State.

Against UCLA, the Sun Devils played their best game of the season, getting excellent effort and production both offensively and defensively in the same game for the first time.

Coincidently, the two respective coordinators—Mike Norvell and Keith Patterson—had front row views as opposed to high above the field.

“Like I said after the game, one of the things we wanted to do was we just kind of felt like it was just our energy level and how we were playing, the focus that we needed,” head coach Todd Graham said. “So Coach Patterson and Coach Norvell came back down, and I thought that was a huge difference for us obviously in our players. Just everyone was pretty focused on their job at hand.”

Before Saturday, Norvell had spent the past three games upstairs in the booth, a move Graham felt was necessary following the season-opening loss to Texas A&M.

Back closer to the action, Norvell directed ASU’s best scoring performance of the season.

The 38 points scored on then-No. 7 UCLA were almost three times their total output the week prior.

“I love being a part of the game down on the field,” Norvell said on Wednesday. “There is a different perspective being up in the box. Being able to see the full field, there’s certain things that are probably a little quicker to see or to have a sense of, but nothing matches the intensity and emotion of being down on the field. When the guys come off you’ll be able to look them in the eye and just get a sense of where they’re at, what are they feeling, what do they see; the emotion that we’re all putting in the game. I love it. It was getting back to having some fun down there on game day. It was really exciting.”

Though it’s impossible to statistically measure their presence on the sidelines—coaches don’t pass, run, catch or tackle—it was the intangible influence the two had on their players they both believe made all the difference.

And the players agreed.

“Obviously Coach Norvell is the leader of our offense and specifically the leader of the quarterback group,” quarterback Mike Bercovici said, “so it was exciting to see him down there, just his on-field presence is unmatched, and just being able to communicate with him face-to-face, it was just a great night on Saturday night.”

Added receiver D.J. Foster, “I think our energy was up on offense a little bit, and I thought our communication was better player to coach with him down there. It was definitely a lot better having him down there, I think, with our energy and communication.”

It had been five years since Patterson last was field level for a game.

He’ll be there again this week against Colorado (3-2, 0-1), though he would not commit to a season-long sideline stay.

That of course may change should Patterson see his defense repeat their production from UCLA, which included two safeties, eight three-and-outs and holding the nation’s 22nd-ranked rushing offense to a season-low 62 yards.

“Sometimes being down on the field is better, sometimes being in the box is better,” he said. “If you have a more veteran group, senior led-type group, a lot of times I’ve been in the press box. We have a lot of guys that have played but they’re still relatively young. Just to see the confidence in our face, just getting them to play the next play sometimes, just something that simple, putting negative plays behind you and seeking opportunities to be able to change the momentum in a game can be big.”

ASU (3-2, 1-1) has never lost to Colorado, winning all previous six matchups.

Again, how much a seventh straight victory hinges on where the coordinators are located would appear to be insignificant. It’s the execution on the field, not the execution on the sidelines.

Still, the end result last week can’t be ignored.

“I was really proud of the guys,” Norvell said, looking back at the UCLA game. “I don’t think we played, by any stretch, our best game, but there’s a lot of things that we definitely improved on and I thought you saw some flashes of who we can be, what we can become but there’s still a lot of thing we got to clean up to get to where we want to go.”

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Location, location, location; Arizona State points to coordinators’ position for better play