In each of its last two games, Arizona State has overcome two-touchdown deficits to down opponents with fourth quarter comebacks and notch critical early-season victories.
After falling behind 28-12 against the University of Texas-San Antonio and recording a 32-28 victory, ASU found itself in familiar territory against Cal on Saturday evening at Sun Devil Stadium as head coach Todd Graham's squad trailed 24-10 at halftime.
A season ago, it was the Sun Devils collapsing late, as the team lost five games in which it held fourth quarter leads. This year, however, ASU has used the second half to pull away from all four of its opponents, and Graham said he's satisfied with the way the Sun Devils are responding to their opponents' early haymakers.
"We just need to finish the game ahead, that's what we need to do," Graham said. "It's not really like it's something we're doing or something like that, people work and practice and have plans and usually you kind of get their best shot there early. I would love to get off to a faster start, but it's not how you start, it's how you finish. If we get off to a great start, great, if we don't, great, all that matters is how we finish."
After Tuesday's practice, Graham highlighted the importance of ASU's special teams units, which have helped the Sun Devils dominate that phase of the game in each of the team's contests thus far. On Saturday, ASU's average starting field position was its own 41-yard line, whereas the Bears' consistently started inside their own 25-yard line and wound up with an average starting field position of their own 22-yard line.
Graham said ASU's special teams dominance has enabled the Sun Devils to excel in the month of September, and he has developed a certain comfort level with his special teams units on the field. Still, Graham said continued improvement for ASU's special teams contributors is paramount for the Sun Devils' overall success, especially considering it might be easy for ASU to become complacent with the current state of its special teams units.
"The key to everything we're doing is not be satisfied with anything," Graham said. "You always tend to harp on the things you're not doing very well, but we have to get better with every single area. That's the key to winning in this league because it's going to be a battle every week. You're going to be in a close game every single week, you hope so."
Graham spent so much of his Tuesday session with the media after practice praising ASU's special teams contributors that when asked about the Sun Devils' top pass rusher this season, he couldn't help but highlight the player's special teams efforts.
Junior college transfer and pass-rush specialist Koron Crump played his most consistent game of the season Saturday against Cal, and gave Bears' quarterback Davis Webb fits in the pocket. While Graham is excited about the pressure Crump has been able to apply, he's equally satisfied with the job Crump has done as a coverage player on ASU's punt team.
"He's (Koron) doing a great job, great job rushing the passer," Graham said ."He's a pass-rushing specialist for us, try to do some things moving him around. He's a guy that's doing a tremendous job for us as a bullet on our punt team, he's doing a great job on special teams, he's really been impactful to our team. Doing a great job, I think second in the league in sacks."
News and Notes
- Junior linebacker Christian Sam did not practice during the period of practice open to the media. Sam walked through warmups, slowly jogged off the field before position work, and spent individual drills at Muscle Beach.
- Senior defensive lineman Viliami Latu joined Sam in the injury line and wore a left knee brace during warmups.
- Redshirt freshman running back Jason Lewis was wearing a maroon offensive jersey at practice Tuesday. Lewis has primarily worn a gold scout team jersey throughout the season.
- Junior defensive lineman Christian Hill practiced with the defensive linemen during individual drills Tuesday. For much of the season, Hill has practiced as a tight end and played in ASU's Sparky package as a lead blocker.
- Wide receiver Jalen Harvey was at Muscle Beach prior to the start of practice and didn't participate in warmups because he was getting his ankle taped, but he joined the wide receivers during individual drills.