Arizona State uses ‘extra week’ to focus on fundamentals
TEMPE, Ariz. – With no opponent to prepare for Saturday, Arizona State turned its preparations inward, focusing on themselves and the issues that have kept them out of the win column three times through the season’s first seven games.
Back to fundamentals, blocking and tackling, according to head coach Todd Graham, who had his team on the practice field for three days during its bye week.
“We call this an extra week, not a bye week,” he said, “so we’ve got an extra week to really, really focus on fundamentals and get better.”
Tops on his list: turnovers.
Graham preaches 100-percent ball security, yet the Sun Devils have not had a zero-turnover game this season.
The offense turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter at Utah as the Sun Devils were outscored 20-0 after entering the final 15 minutes with an 18-14 advantage.
On the flip side, ASU (4-3, 2-2) is not forcing turnovers, at least not enough in Graham’s eyes.
“We’re getting an awful lot of TFLs and sacks and those things. We just need to get the ball out,” he said.
The Sun Devils lead the Pac-12 and nation in tackles for loss (TFLs) at almost 10 a game, while the defense consistently gets after the quarterback. Their 3.43 sacks per game average is the best in the conference and ranked fifth nationally.
Against Utah, ASU sacked Travis Wilson five times.
“That’s been frustrating. That’s been bizarre,” Graham said. “We’ve made a major emphasis this week as a coaching staff on focusing on the takeaway part of it. We’re hitting them in the backfield. We’re hitting them hard. We’re, I think, on record pace for us TFL-wise and impacting and sacking the quarterback, we’re just not getting the ball out. We think maybe we need to just focus, have a little more awareness on it. I guess the people we’re hitting are doing a pretty good job taking care of it.
“That’s been a little bit bizarre because usually those go hand-in-hand.”
Communication and offensive execution, namely eliminating the dropped passes, were also discussed this week.
Special teams, though that unit has had its hiccups here and there, continues to improve.
“We’re playing at a really good level, a really high level on special teams right now,” Graham said, pointing specifically to Tim White, whose 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Utah earned him Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
It was the Sun Devils’ first since Rashad Ross against Colorado in 2012.
The bye week, or extra week, came at a good time in terms of getting players healthy.
A knee injury kept running back Demario Richard off the field against Utah, but he practiced this week and is expected to play when Oregon (4-3) visits next Thursday.
That matchup could also mark the return of starting free safety Armand Perry. He’s missed five straight games since suffering a high ankle sprain in the win over Cal Poly on Sept. 12.
Like ASU, Oregon has failed to live up to the lofty preseason expectations.
“You don’t accept losing, but losing is a motivation to go and win and do the things it takes to win,” Graham said. “We’re looking to get better fundamentally and looking to go beat Oregon, that’s it. Getting better every day, 1-0 on every rep. Obviously, got a very good football team coming in here that’s kind of in the same boat we’re in. Both backs against the wall, so we got to figure out a way to get it done.”