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With room to improve, ASU in good position in Pac-12 South

TEMPE, Ariz. — Echoing the thoughts of their head coach from earlier in the week, ASU leaders Taylor Kelly and Will Sutton said they both feel good with where the team stands five games into the season.

Plus they explained the just completed four-game gauntlet through Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame can only help them through the second half of their schedule, when they’ll play four division games.

“We’re a lot farther along than we were last year at this point of the year,” Kelly said. “We feel confident in ourselves and our team. Those were all great teams that we played against. We’re going to keep seeing great teams in the Pac-12 South and in the North games, so we just got to come out each week playing like it’s the Pac-12 Championship Game and just come out ready to work.”

Their work Wednesday, however, was “average” according to Todd Graham.

“We’ve been beaten by two teams that were more disciplined than us. And we’re a very disciplined team. But compared to what? That’s the key,” he said.

Graham preaches 100 percent ball security, a goal the Sun Devils (3-2, 1-1) have not attained since week one against Sacramento State.

Kelly has taken that message to heart.

“I’ve got to protect the football a lot better,” he said. “That’s the big thing I’ve been focusing on throughout the week and maintaining my focus through the whole game.”

While he’s passed for 300 or more yards in every game, Kelly has also been picked off five times in the past three games and six times overall. ASU, as a team, has turned the ball over eight times.

Defensively, if the Sun Devils hope to be a championship-contending team, the improvement must come up front, according to Sutton.

“Me and Carl (Bradford) just got to learn how to pass rush through the double teams,” he said. “It’s tough when you got teams that are max-protecting, slide-protecting, rolling out play action. It’s tough, but we’ve just got to keep working and just hopefully, when we get our chance, we make it happen.”

Of the team’s seven sacks, Sutton and Bradford have combined for three.

Increasing the pressure on the quarterback will also assist the secondary, which has been forced to work harder and longer the past two games with USC passing for 295 yards and Notre Dame racking up 279 yards through the air.

“Looking at Colorado, we feel like we can just get a four-man rush,” Sutton said. “The good thing is we played against some top O-lines, so we know going into games that if we play like we played against the top O-lines, then nobody can block us.”

The matchup against Colorado (2-2, 0-2) Saturday has become the next most important game on the schedule.

“Because it’s a Pac-12 South opponent,” Sutton said.