Sun Devils need to regroup quickly
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Todd Graham was frustrated after Arizona State's loss to No. 5 Stanford, perhaps more than at any other time during his two seasons as coach of the Sun Devils.
Other than a gritty attempt at a comeback, there wasn't much to like.
Plagued by a stumbling start, missed assignments, botched plays and a horrendous day on special teams, the Sun Devils fell well short in what was supposed to be a measuring-stick game against the Cardinal on Saturday.
"No doubt, that was the most upset I was because that was a game I wanted really bad to win - not play well, in,'' Graham said during his weekly news conference Monday. "We didn't give ourselves a chance and that's frustrating because that's my job to prepare our team to do that and we fell short of that.''
What Graham hopes is that the Sun Devils learn from their mistakes so they don't happen again.
They've got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time with Southern California coming up next in the third of four straight tough games for Arizona State.
The Trojans may not be the offensive juggernaut they once were, but have shown flashes, scoring at least 30 points against Hawaii and Boston College. USC has one of the nation's dynamic playmakers in receiver Marqise Lee and a defense that has yet to allow an opponent to gain 300 yards or score more than 14 points.
The Trojans also have history on their side, having won 11 of their past 12 games against Arizona State.
"They're a very talented football team,'' Graham said. "Very, very impressive they way they play defense. A good team and we've got a lot of work to get ready to play against them.''
To have a chance against USC, the Sun Devils will have to get off to a much better start than they did against Stanford.
Hoping to make a mark against a top-5 team, Arizona State stumbled instead, falling behind 29-0 by halftime and 39-7 through three quarters. The Sun Devils managed to close the gap with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make the score at least respectable at 42-28.
A nice rally, but it was the way the Sun Devils got into that hole that concerned Graham.
The most glaring problem was on special teams.
Graham and his staff have emphasized special teams all season, yet the Sun Devils bumbled their way through that part of the game against Stanford.
It started when Stanford's Ty Montgomery returned the opening kickoff and only got worse from there. The Sun Devils had one punt blocked when Matt Haack kicked the ball into the back of a teammate and another when quarterback Taylor Kelly's pooch kick went too low.
Arizona State also had a delay of game penalty on a punt and gave up a touchdown last week against Wisconsin thanks to a wild snap and a poor decision by punter Dom Vizzare, who tried to pick the ball up instead of falling on it or kicking it out of the end zone.
"You have that many mistakes in the kicking game, it will be a priority in practice,'' Graham said. "You can't spend any more time in practice on special teams than we have. It's the most I've ever spent. There's things we need to get better. We need to have them better prepared and ready for Saturday.''
The Devils at least should have something to build on after rallying against the Cardinal.
Trailing by more than four touchdowns, the Sun Devils finally found a rhythm offensively, setting up Kelly for three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
It wasn't enough after the huge early hole, but it at least showed the Sun Devils they could hang with one of the nation's best teams, even if it was only for a quarter,
"Our guys showed great heart and character in the way they came back,'' Graham said. "The last two games, we've been behind and the guys have shown a lot of character coming back.''
Now they have to come back and see if they can build on it against USC.
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