Arizona State had a significant number of inexperienced players taking on extensive roles in the team's season-opening win against Northern Arizona Saturday, and head coach Todd Graham highlighted the efforts of many of those players at his weekly press conference on Monday.
Following ASU’s 44-13 victory, Graham complimented a handful of specific players including sophomore defensive end Renell Wren, redshirt freshman defensive tackle George Lea, junior linebacker D.J. Calhoun, sophomore offensive guard Quinn Bailey, senior kicker Zane Gonzalez, senior wide receiver Tim White and sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins.
"From start to finish, that was a great example of getting better every snap," Graham said. "I think we scored the last seven consecutive series, something like that. Up front on the defensive line, I thought those two guys (Wren and Lea) really stood out and did some nice things. I thought our effort was good there. I thought D.J. (Calhoun) did some nice things. There were a lot of guys giving great effort and getting better on every snap."
On the offensive side of the ball, Bailey caught Graham's attention because of some similarities in his skill set he shares with a prominent ASU lineman who started for the Sun Devils last season.
"On the offensive line, I thought Quinn Bailey was a guy that stood out to me," Graham said. "It was interesting, because I told coach Thomsen I thought he was Christian Westerman a couple of times. Just very similar in their stance and mannerisms. He’s got a ways to go to get the experience and knowledge at that level that Christian was at. I thought he had his best game.”
Graham said White epitomizes what it means to be a Sun Devil, and called him one of the hardest working players in the program. On Saturday, White had nine receptions for 95 yards on 10 targets from Wilkins. White was used on quick screens to utilize his playmaking ability on the outside.
“I think Tim epitomizes what we want in a player. A very selfless guy,” Graham said. “I try to talk to him on the sidelines and say, 'Tim, sometimes you’ve got to go down. You need to go out of bounds,' but he’s not running out of bounds, he’s not going down. He’s just a tenacious, physical competitor. One of the hardest working guys in the program. Studies, this means something to him. I think you see his character, his discipline. He’s a guy when I walk around and talk to players, whether it be in the dining hall or in the locker room, I’m telling them if you want to follow somebody, follow Tim White."
Graham also highlighted how ASU stuck to its game plan of running the football against the Lumberjacks. The Sun Devils rushed 46 times for 276 yards, while Wilkins only registered 27 pass attempts. Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey stayed committed to the run game, which helped the Sun Devils gain 100-plus yards in the fourth quarter against an exhausted NAU front.
“We would’ve liked to score on every drive,” Graham said. “We scored on the last seven drives we had. We ran the ball into eight and nine-man fronts. We did that by design. We were going to be committed to running the football. There were lots of things out on the field that we could’ve done, it’s not like we weren’t trying to do that, but we’re 1-0. It amazes me, we’re 1-0, we won 44-13, we gave up 13 points. We’re going to go into next week, so that’s kind of how I feel about all of that."
News and Notes
- Graham mentioned special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum as the leader in turning around ASU’s special teams play the past couple of seasons. Slocum, who is in his second season, has vast NFL coaching experience. He was with the Green Bay Packers from 2006-2014 in either an assistant or head special teams coordinator role.
- Junior linebacker Christian Sam was injured early in Saturday's contest, and Graham said that he hopes Sam can play on Saturday, but did not go into specifics on the injury. Sam left the field Saturday in a walking boot, and his status will continue to be monitored throughout the week.
- Junior Spur linebacker Marcus Ball’s targeting penalty early in the third quarter will cause him to miss the first half against Texas Tech, and when asked about the penalty, Graham said safety is the key. Graham said Ball did not launch into the hit, but hitting with the crown of the helmet resulted in the flag.
- Graham will continue to trot out Wilkins as the starter -- and he feels confident about the team's quarterback situation -- with Wilkins' poise standing out. “We could’ve thrown the ball a whole lot more than we did, and we didn’t," Graham said. "Obviously, there’s some things we wanted to establish and do. One thing we wanted to do was win the game, but we wanted to run the football. I think he did some really nice things running the football, made some good decisions there. There’s lots of things, you know. I told him about Taylor’s (Kelly) first game, then I told him about Mike’s (Bercovici) first game, kind of how that all went. I think for his first game, he learned a lot, and I think he did a solid job."
- Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who totaled 540 yards from scrimmage in Texas Tech’s 69-17 win over Stephen F. Austin, has Graham’s attention. Graham called him one of, if not the best quarterback in the Big 12.