Run defense is Graham's main focus

While ASU took care of business at home and dominated their Pac-12 South foe USC to the tune of 62-41, there was a glaring deficiency on Saturday night: rushing defense. The Trojans ran all over the Sun Devils for 247 yards on 37 carries and racked up four touchdowns on the ground. It is an issue that has been the team's Achilles heel dating to last season.

In 2012, Arizona State dealt with the same problem on multiple occasions with their defense, so going into the offseason run defense was the sole focus. Yet, through four games this year, the Devils rank 92nd in rushing defense, giving up an average 192.3 yards per game.

In his weekly press conference today, Graham addressed his defense's struggle against the run.

"Obviously we aren't doing very well in that regard," Graham admitted. "I think in the inside running game I think we've made vast improvements. Most of it has been we have made a lot of alignment issues on the perimeter; most of the yards that they're making have been on perimeter run.

"Most of it we can definitely fix. And we have played against good people but still, we are giving up plays where we are absolutely misaligned. We had right at 15 plays last week that we were misaligned in.

ASU's head coach feels that the propensity to give up chunks of yardage eon the ground is something that has increased from week to week.

"Going back and evaluating it, obviously week one we didn't give up any big plays really; week two, you don't see very many, the speed sweep was about it," Graham noted. "Then you go into week three (Stanford) and you see a few more. By far and away in my opinion Stanford was the most difficult team to play from a run standpoint and we did a lot of good things inside; it was a very physical game.

"We are just a guy to two short at some spots, we have got to continue to get better there. We are going to make some adjustments to do that. I think it does warrant making some adjustments in what we are doing. We have got Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Chris Young, Gannon Conway, those guys are playing at a high level big time against the run. Osahon Irabor is playing at a high level against the run to the boundary, our issues are not to the boundary, and our issues are to the other way. We are going to make adjustments and some things there that we can do better.

Graham believes that several mental errors, especially with angle flow, are causing several big outside perimeter runs. Then again, he feels that it's fixable and that improved depth can help in reversing the fortunes of this defensive aspect.

"This is the number one thing that we have got to do to win a championship," Graham stated. "This has got to get better, it has to improve, and I think it can so that is our number one focus there. I do think there are some personnel issues and so we'll make some moves and we'll do some things that we have to do to get kind of straight.

"We tried to do some of those things in the middle of the game and you can't do them in the middle of the game. But I am encouraged; the work that we have put in there has helped us, you haven't seen it a lot because we have given up big plays, the big play run has been our nemesis."

Graham mentioned that he's not sure at this point whether or not sophomore Jaxon Hood will be able to play on Saturday against Notre Dame. He said, "if (Jaxon) is 100 percent, then he'll go, if not, then he won't." Mo Latu didn't play against USC due to a nagging knee injury according to Graham and his status for Notre Dame is in question as well.

Needless to say that not having Latu and Hood, both prolific nose tackles, are the missing pieces to the run defense puzzle.

Looking ahead, the Sun Devils travel home to Graham's home state of Texas to take on Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, a game that has been circled on many people's calendars for a while now.

"It's a great opportunity for us," Graham said. "This game is a national game for us, it's an opportunity for our players, I talked to them yesterday about making history – we could be the first team in college history to beat USC and Notre Dame on back to back weeks, that's never happened so I'd say that's pretty significant.

"If you want to win a championship you have to win on the road, that's something that we've talked to our players about. It shows great maturity to do that. We have got to go on the road here to Dallas and play well because this team we are playing is a very good football team, very well coached."

Much like their opponents in recent weeks, Graham feels that the Fighting Irish are also a very physical team up front, and will pose a significant challenge on the line of scrimmage.

"This team we are playing is a very good football team, very well coached," Graham said. "They are going to do some things offensively that are very difficult. They do a lot of unbalanced and empty formations that we are going to work really hard on to prepare for. They have really good players. Their tailbacks are similar to the ones we faced this week. Very good and powerful guys. Big tight ends and big receivers.

"Obviously their defense is the strength of their team and their program. They are very big and very physical. It will be a big challenge for us."

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