Coming into Senior Day, Head Coach Todd Graham challenged his team to play with pride for the graduating seniors. After the game Graham was impressed with the passion the players showed against Washington State.
“Obviously it was a very emotional day for us,” Graham admitted. “Seeing them run out of the tunnel and just how those guys have opened their hearts and this team to me, and to a whole new way of doing things. I’m just really proud of the senior bunch. Obviously it was a special day and we dominated and that’s how you want to play on senior day. Cameron Marshall, Brandon Magee and company: I’m just really proud of them.”
If there was any one blemish to this contest it was the Arizona State defense missing a shutout, allowing Washington State to score its lone points of the afternoon with only 57 seconds left in the game. Graham didn’t try to conceal his displeasure.
“I was furious at the end that our twos on defense let them score at the end like that,” Graham stated, “because that team deserved a shutout; those seniors deserved a shutout. They won in dominant fashion. I’m proud of them getting bowl eligible and I’m proud of the progress these guys have made.”
Graham desires for ASU to become known for their aggressive style of defense, and believes this year’s senior class did a great job of setting the bar for future years.
“We want to establish this place as a place where people want to come and play defense, play a certain way,” Graham explained. “We do it aggressively; we attack and get after it. Keelan [Johnson] got a couple of interceptions; I’m so proud of him and Brandon and [Deveron] Carr. It was special watching them and how we totally dominated.”
Graham believes that the key to the Sun Devils success on defense is the intelligence and discipline that they show on the field.
“I think we’re one of the top defenses,” Graham claimed, “and there’s a good reason for that because we’re pretty good at it. These guys did a good job of executing a plan and were fundamentally sound in the passing game. We didn’t do the same thing; we moved around, we pressured, we rushed.
“Our third down plan was exceptional. I have a bunch of smart guys that do a great job. I’m proud of our defensive staff and the plan they put together.”
Graham was proud of the way both of his quarterbacks responded to the adversity and criticism following last week’s lost against USC.
“Taylor [Kelly] does a great job,” Graham said. “I thought he settled down today and played well. I thought Mike Eubank did some good things as well. The ball gets dispersed and moved around an awful lot on our offense. I was impressed with how they played.”
With the win today, ASU becomes bowl eligible for the second year in a row. Coach Graham believes the experience gained through preparing for a post-season contest will be crucial to the team’s future success and the momentum of the program.
“It’s very significant to qualify for a bowl,” Graham remarked. “That’s something that needs to be a minimum for our football program every year. The extra practices are invaluable; you can’t build a program without those extra practices leading up to your bowl game. It is also crucial in helping to build momentum during recruiting.”
Coach Graham is appreciative of the loyalty of the Sun Devil fan base, and the support they have given him during his first year at ASU.
“I really want to thank our fans,” Graham stated. “Our fans have been special in the way they’ve welcomed me here. We had a four-game skid there but obviously we played some good football teams and there are no excuses in our program.
“But I’m so grateful for their support. We’re laying a great foundation. We need to go get our seventh win and our eighth win in the bowl game. That will be a solid start for us. Not what our expectations were. But I just want to thank them. I appreciate their support and I appreciate them in believing in how we’re doing things and how we’re working hard to deliver it for them.”
Coach Graham and the Sun Devils will now prepare to play Friday against Arizona, a game that Graham considers to be the most important game of the year. It was a message that was conveyed to him ever since he was hired last December.
“Going out, I did 130-something speaking engagements and to every single fan, the most important game is the Territorial Cup,” Graham recalled. “So we know this is the most important game of the year, bar none. This game isn’t about Todd Graham or any other coach. It’s far bigger than that. It’s about Arizona State versus Arizona and that’s all it needs to be.
“I can tell you we know the significance of it and we’re going to work our tails off because we know that’s the most important game. You can go 11-0 and lose that game and it’s an unsuccessful year. That’s what college football is about. I love the rivalry games. I think it’s sad that some of them have gone away in college football, because I think that’s what it’s about. We need to be fierce.”
Graham believes that the key to being successful in a rivalry game, is playing within yourself and not letting the intensity affect your game.
“We’re going to be first-class in how we approach it,” Graham commented. “I just teach, teach every week, and you don’t have to get kids up to play in this type of game. I’m more of making sure we prepare them throughout the week and they don’t go into the game and change stuff and get too emotional and get stupid penalties and turn the football over, because you can throw the record out in rivalry games.
“They’re going to be won by the team that’s the most disciplined, the toughest team, and the team that wants it the most.”
After the game Coach Graham had a simple message to his team regarding the rest of the season.
“We’re not done yet,” Graham said. “We’re only done at home. The most important game of the year is coming up next week and then we’re going to get a bowl championship. We’re not just going to go to a bowl; we’re going to win one.”