Graham proud of effort in deserving win

Two days after a big win at home against the defending Big 10 champion, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham had time to reflect on the improbable finish that occurred Saturday night in his team's 32-30 victory over Wisconsin. Despite the much talked mishap that occurred, ASU's head coach's feelings about the outcome didn't change.

"There's a human element to this game, you win or you lose," Graham commented. "Obviously that was a very unusual deal, and what started that was he was going to take a knee and he kind of slipped, even I was hollering to get on the ball because when he set the ball down it kind of started it, even some of their players jumped at the ball. It's that human element to the game.

"At the end of the day, I'm proud of our guys and how they played, and we deserved to win, I really believe that."

One of the bright spots from Saturday night was the play of junior college transfer wide out Jaelen Strong. Strong finished the game with six catches and 104 yards, as he dominated the Badgers' secondary on multiple occasions, going up and snatching back shoulder passes from quarterback Taylor Kelly.

"He's only going to get better every week," Graham said of Strong. "But that has really helped us, to give us an element outside that is physical. Obviously all the 100-yards receiving everybody notices that, but his blocking and how physical he is, I mean he's pinning people on the ground."

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Strong's exploits aside, the offensive MVP of that contest would more than likely be awarded to running back Marion Grice. The senior accounted for four scores for the Devils, something that Graham says he just has a knack for.

"I think 99.99 percent of that is instinct," Graham said. "He's got a great gift running the football. He has an interesting style; sometimes I'm looking at him and like, ‘is he going full speed?' Because he's so smooth in how he runs. But he is very tough, very physical and boy he just finds that end zone. He doesn't remind me of anybody, he has a very unique kind of style. Marion is special, and I think he will continue to have a great year."

With running back D.J. Foster mainly being used as a slot receiver so far this season, his backfield teammate Deantre Lewis has gotten an opportunity to see a share of snaps at running back, and he's made the most of it.

Lewis had over 100 yards from scrimmage in Arizona State's first game against Sacramento State. Against Wisconsin, he came in to give Grice a breather, and the offense didn't miss a beat.

"I was very impressed going back and evaluating the film with how hard he ran with the ball and when he caught it," Graham said. "Yards after contact, yards after the catch, that's exciting to see. He has tremendous potential and I think him showing that toughness and competing, he wants to play. He wants to be a contributor and he wants to help our team win so I think he will be more of a factor. We've got a lot of guys that are athletic that can help us.

"But I do think his role is key, because there were times when I was on the headset telling Mike (Norvell), ‘Mike, Marion is gassed,' so I do think that Deantre as he matures and continues to improve and becomes more and more dependable in his blocking, I think he can be a big factor for us."

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Depth at linebacker is one of the Devils' strengths this season. And thus Graham could've realistically redshirted both the Latu twins considering that depth. However, the Sun Devils head coach feels strongly that Viliami Latu and Alani Latu , can have a significant impact on ASU's special teams play. The tandem didn't take long to show the value that they bring to the field, as Alani Latu made a touchdown saving tackle on the kickoff coverage unit against Wisconsin.

"I went to them, and we felt like we needed them to help us play special teams," Graham said of the twins. "And obviously as they progress they will be able to help us more at linebacker. Probably what was best for them was to redshirt, but what's best for our team and they didn't even hesitate, ‘coach we want to help the team any way we can to win.' They both did a great job and we are working to get them to start on all of our special teams.

They (Wisconsin) broke a kickoff there, and A.J. (Alani) made a great tackle there that would've been a big play, so both of those guys are going to be a big time help in special teams and be great depth for us on defense."

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Looking ahead, the Sun Devils (2-0) will travel to No. 5 Stanford to take on the Cardinal (2-0) in Palo Alto this Saturday. Reflecting on the style of Stanford, Graham feels that they are comparable to Wisconsin on many levels.

"[Wisconsin and Stanford have] very similar type styles, a lot of movement, obviously very physical," Graham said. "Stanford is a team that wants to be physical and run the football; power, iso(lation), downhill runs, play action pass.

"This team here (Stanford) knows their identity, so did the team last week. That's what champions have is that identity and I think our team is starting to get that. The reality is any championship you have; you're going to play in a lot of close football games. You've got to win the close ones, it takes that team that understands how to do that, and fights and scratches for every millimeter."

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Graham mentioned that Kevin Hogan, Stanford's quarterback, reminds him a lot of Taylor Kelly, in the stance that they both are able to extend the play with their mobility.

Hogan, a junior, has managed both of Stanford's games well against both of their opponents this season, but hasn't had an eye-popping performance in either game. Through two games, Hogan is 28-45 for 395 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.

Much like Wisconsin, Graham mentioned that Stanford is going to establish physicality in the run game, and develop the play-action pass off of that.

"One of the things you don't want to underestimate with Stanford, is they can throw the football," Graham said. "And this team's identity is different than last year's team. And it has to do with personnel. I've got a lot of respect for Coach Shaw and the job that they do because they are extremely adaptive with their players. Their quarterback is a very good player, very accurate with the football."

"So you've got to do a great job of obviously stopping the run. With Stanford though, if you're going to load up, they're going to take what you give them. They do a lot of checks and audibles at the line of scrimmage, they have a system that is very modern, and people don't realize that."

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The much publicized and challenging four-game stretch for Arizona State is off to a 1-0 start. There is little doubt that the win against Wisconsin was significant on ay levels. Nonetheless, Graham admitted that his team's next contest does carry even more importance.

"Our goal as a team is to win every game, so we can check two off of that list," Graham said of his team's 2-0 start overall. "We do point towards the conference, is this game more important than last week's game? Not any question. Hands down, it's Stanford and USC, the conference games are the most important games. At the end of the season they are going to evaluate you on how many wins and losses you have and whether or not you won a championship or not. Our program is in a position to compete for a championship, I believe in these players."

Saturday's game in Palo Alto kicks off at 4 p.m. and is televised on the Fox network.


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