Graham Meets With the Press

Arizona State coach Todd Graham addressed the media Monday, discussing his team and this week's matchup with Illinois.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham was successful in his debut in Tempe, beating Northern Arizona 63-6 in the season opener.

He now focuses his attention to the Week Two matchup with Illinois. He met with the media to discuss his team, his thoughts on Illinois and more.

Opening statement...

"Our guys had kind of an extra practice yesterday. The guys I think have a good demeanor. I think we just have to continue to improve fundamentally. Obviously, going back to the game, I am very, very proud of our players. I can't say enough about just how well they prepared and I challenged them to prepare this week as well as they did for week one. That is a big challenge.

"Obviously, the level of competition goes way up. Illinois' defense is special; probably four players that I think are really dynamic and all eleven players are very explosive. [They have] a very good back end, a very good linebacker core and a very, very good defensive line. Their inside defensive tackles and their defensive ends are very special players. The key for our offense is going to be very, very simple: don't turn the football over, make sure that we play disciplined football, no stupid penalties and that we don't have mental errors that create negative plays. No negative plays is what we're trying to do. It's okay to punt the football, just be sure to not do things to beat ourselves. We have to match them defensively. We have to play very, very well.

"Obviously, their quarterback is a special player. I think their running backs are some special players. They are very, very diverse - much like our team. They have a lot of athletic top guys. The receiving core is big, physical [and] fast. So [they have] very good skill players and a solid kicking game. The key for us is to win the takeaway battle and obviously, again, make sure that we don't beat ourselves with stupid penalties and mental errors. That is our focus going into this week. Again, I want to emphasize how proud I am of our players and how well they prepared. As adversity is hard to handle, so is success. We played one game and I am very, very proud of them though. Now we have to go and win a big game. This is a big game for us; a very critical game. Like I told you guys, I think the first five games of this season are so critical for us as a program.

"Obviously, they get harder and harder and harder. It jumps up a whole bunch harder this week."

On why he believes the first five games are so important...

"I just really believe so strongly that from every point mentally as a team, to have kind of buy in to what we are doing - such a drastic change - that success is needed. Obviously, in recruiting and in the way we are trying to recruit and who we are trying to compete with, success is very, very important. It's just hard. If you don't have success, it is just hard. The reason why I think the first part of the year is so critical is because each day that we practice we get a little bit better and they become a little bit more knowledgeable. I mean we are going to be so much farther along in the spring than we are right now. So, as we play each game we are going to get better. I think the key for us is to stay healthy and I think we have to experience success. Obviously, we want to win every game but that is the key for us. Somebody asked me last week if I think that helped with the buy in...well yeah, it did. We are excited to get Jamal back because he is a big time play maker and we are looking forward to getting him out there and turning him loose this week. I try to share with you guys the things that I am actually talking to my staff about and that is all I emphasize; how critical week one is, how critical week two is. Especially when we roll in to Utah and start playing the Pac-12 our goal is to win it. Those three games before that are big because each week we are going to get better."

On better gauging his team against a higher caliber Illinois...

"I think that it is probably how you want to start. We started off with a game that gave a lot of confidence and that we really played well in. So this game is obviously a very quality Big Ten opponent that has got a very physical and defense that can cause you a lot of problems. They caused six fumbles last week and three interceptions so they are batting balls and doing very well. Obviously, we will find out where we are at, but I'm not very concerned about finding out where we are at as much as I am concerned about being 2-0. I told our guys that if we could have just a single focus each week, and it's kind of a cliché, that is the key for us and every week we are going to have to bring it. I don't know if I have ever had a season where we work hard that I can say that. There is always that one week or one game that you go, `Golly, what in the world?' I think our guys have a great mental focus. They know though. We walked in here today and the guys were like, `Coach, these guys are good'. They know because they played them last year and saw the talent they have.

"The key is to get in those bigger games and really keep that focus and that discipline as far as from the penalty standpoint. I am really proud of that. Somebody told me that we had the fewest amount of penalties for a long time. I didn't tell our players that because I thought that four penalties was not good. That is kind of what I want their standard to be when it comes to that. It's going to be a different deal this week no question about it but I have a lot of confidence in our guys and the key for us is don't beat yourself. That's what happens in these early games so we are very focused on that. Single-mindedly focused on taking care of the ball and no stupid penalties."

On what he took away from the Norther Arizona game film...

"I was very anxious to see it. I love practicing everyday. I love coaching. I love doing what I am doing. I have a passion for this game but on game day, man I was very anxious to see how they were going to take and translate all the things we are trying to teach them on to the field. They impressed me and exceeded my expectations there. These guys played hard. We made a lot of mistakes that you are going to have but they played hard. I like that. I like the edge that they played with. That was something that impressed me."

On what he plans to implement after seeing the first game...

"I really kind of thought there would be more reverting back. I am just talking about little things. I am very particular about little things like when we score, hand the ball to the official. We had one time we didn't do that but eight times we did. I didn't think it would be like that. I thought I would have to get on more people like, "Hey, that's not how we do it". I didn't say that hardly at all. It was pretty calm and uneventful. I didn't have a lot to say other than just correct some things and schematic stuff. I have a pretty good idea of where they are at but they took what we taught them and really applied it. I still think we are kind of conformed to what we are doing and being transformed to a whole different deal. When we face some adversity is when we will really find out where we are. I believe in these guys and I have a pretty good feeling. I have all the confidence in the world in what we are doing and our coaching staff. I challenged them to know that the whole is not a very complex deal; you get the ball to your best guys. This offense is designed where a lot of different people touch the football. That is what makes it diverse and what makes it difficult to defend.

"We did find some things that some guys do very well that we need to expand upon. D.J.'s [Foster] receiving ability is very special and we can really expand that. It'd been hard because you are having to teach him how to protect and how to play tailback, so it's been a lot for him to take in. Obviously, he is a very bright guy but we need to continue to expand those things. We have Jamal coming back and we know what he can do. I am anxious to see that. We have Cam (Marshall), Marion Grice is a guy that really stood out and did some very good things, Deantre Lewis and his abilities. Deantre and D.J. are very versatile as well as Jamal. So we have a lot of guys and it makes a challenge for us. Then you have Middlebrooks coming back and we are excited about him. I think he is a playmaker and a difference maker. So how do you work with all of that? That is a challenge for us. The key is to be adaptive and adaptive to our personnel. We have to game plan a little bit too and getting the ball to our best guy on their lesser guy. That's kind of the key too and sometimes it's not as easy as it sounds."

On his approach to having a nine-game conference schedule and the four-team playoff...

"Well, we already have contracts through 2017. I do think that there is some strategy there. With a nine-game conference schedule, it is more difficult. You guarantee half of the teams in your league a loss. Just like the conference championship game. Obviously I love that, our players love it and our fans love it, But that is a game that you could actually hurt yourself in making the four-team playoff. I'm not really giving a whole lot of thought to that.

"I am just trying to win each week, but what I would tell you is that I think that our conference and our philosophy here is that we want to be the best and to do that you have to play the best. Look at our schedule, I think next year we have Wisconsin and Notre Dame and then you have LSU in there. If you ask me, `What is the best situation to put you in the best position to win the four-game playoff?', I would tell you one big game and two games you are predicted to win in. I will tell you that is probably not going to happen here. At least in the near future, it's not going to. I think, too, that you hope that the voters will look at that because that is a big deal.

"I've been doing it for a while and every year when I was at Tulsa we played Oklahoma. I always felt like that game made us a better football team and we would compete. We almost won, there were times we almost beat them. We got a lot of grief because we couldn't beat a BCS school but we were playing Oklahoma every year. They are a very good football program. We finally beat Notre Dame so we got that monkey off of our back. I think that our guys and our fans want to play in big games and I think to fill the stadium up, to get that kind of interest, I am all for playing the best but there are two sides to that thinking.

"The nine-game conference schedule people don't understand. That is most people playing four non-conference games and eight conference games so you see a lot more. I was watching some of the deals they put up and one of the teams was saying how well they did in their first game and you look at the teams they played and you go, `Wow...". I didn't even know some of them. It's not going to be a problem around here. We are going to play a Big Ten school and an SEC school in the next two weeks just to warm up for our conference. I think there is good and bad. I think one of the things that is a major concern for me right now, the one thing that you say, `Coach, what is the biggest thing you stay up at night worrying about?' is depth. There is a huge drop off right now between one's and two's. That's where the coaching job is going to come in; developing our two's. We have some real quality two's. You look at running back and we have great depth. I think we are starting to develop some depth on the offensive line, which was an area I probably would have worried the most about in the spring. Defensively, upfront we are very, very thin. The secondary is as thin as it gets. We don't get any thinner than that. That is the biggest concern for me when you are playing this schedule. I think it [the schedule] does help you. I think traditionally the Pac-12 has played tough non-conference and you just hope that voters and people look at that. I want to be one of them so we are going to work hard to be there."

On tempo...

"It was the worst thing about week one. Our tempo was very, very, very slow. You cut your head off and spike your face on that deal. You have to figure out where it is that we can operate. We are waiting on the defense. It's like we are being courteous to them and letting them line up. We need to go. A lot of that is being familiar with how to identify the fronts, how to identify the coverage and then our quarterback just being comfortable to where he can go through all of the things he needs to do which is a lot. We want ten guys going as fast as they can go and the quarterback going at his pace. That is the biggest thing we talked about. At half time we were like, `Golly, we gotta go faster!" What I do when we are on offense is I watch the forty-second clock. When we snap the ball it should say 25 to 22 seconds. That's where we have to be snapping it. It was going way down into the teens most of the night. As the night went on, that was the problem too. We were having to eat as much clock off as we could so that was something that was hard for us to do and it was hard to watch because we cant huddle because we don't know how to huddle so we just kind of stand there. I can hear people yelling in the stands, `You call this no-huddle fast play?' and well we are trying to be sportsmanlike here and not score more points. The tempo though was not good."

On the quarterbacks' time and amount of snaps...

"I think that the score was one of the reasons why Taylor didn't play as much, no question about that. I think that Mike was in there maybe eighth or ninth play. It really has divided up, more than anything, just by package. If we can become really efficient with those packages then yes, I think it makes it kind of difficult. The one thing I like is that it isn't like we have a quarterback situation where the guy goes in there and all he does is run it. We have two guys that are very talented. I think one of Eubank's strengths is his vertical passing. It makes it a very diverse offense to prepare against.

"Obviously, you have to make sure you aren't having illegal procedure penalties. We have to make sure the cadences are similar. We have to make sure we aren't turning the football over. We dodged some bullets on that. Our ball security wasn't what it needed to be. We have to get better at that. Coach Norvell would probably be a better person to ask than me, but I will tell you that we are definitely going to use two. I will tell you what I am telling him on the headsets. I don't call any plays but I tell him, `Run it again, run it again.' So if a play works and Eubank is in there moving the ball we are going to keep on doing the same thing. You just run what's working. That will impact who gets what reps a little bit too but obviously Taylor is the primary guy. I really like his demeanor but it didn't surprise me. It was interesting, after the game we talk about each go. We have fourteen steps and we talk about breaking through the rock, so we break a rock represents an opponent we beat. We have somebody that breaks the rock and we go to the next game. Kind of a symbolic deal like we are on to the next one. When I got into the locker room I was going to pick who would break the rock and all of the players wanted Taylor to do it. So I thought that was a good sign too. I really think that he just has to keep being a leader. When we get into these adverse situations that is when it is very important that we remain poised and remain calm. He is very, very calm. He doesn't get rattled at all. Mike was a little bit concerned about him trying to run over people and compete. I told him to take care of himself but I like that it is third down and he is going to go get the first down. He has to protect himself and not take undue shots and things like that."

On Anthony Jones' role and secondary depth...

"Here's one of my things, I really feel like Anthony [Jones] is one of our best 11. I really think that his best position is probably spur but Chris (Young) is playing so well there that it is hard to take him out. So, we are trying to find the right spot but I see him working into the starting lineup. I think Anthony is really maturing. He is doing some things that are really helping him. Where I see him probably doing that is at linebacker. We looked at him a little bit. I think if we needed him to do that he could do it but they told me today that Laiu (Moeakiola) is getting better so if he can get better he is our backup bandit. That is who I am really worried about. Ezekial [Bishop] played well at free-safety so I am feeling a little better at that and the depth there. But the bandit position, if you actually watch Darby, is the most complicated position. He comes and blitzes off of the edge, he plays curl-flat, he plays quarters, halves, rolls to the middle and plays thirds. He does a lot of different things. He plays man-to-man on third down. We put Anthony back there at safety yesterday and he did pretty well. I just think that it is just too hard to do that right now. I'm not saying we wouldn't do it. If someone got hurt I would put him back there. I told him the other day he was backup spur, backup bandit and competing to start at SAM. He has had a great attitude and has really developed mentally. I really like how I will come in and ask him, `Hey, can you learn this?' and see what their body language is and he has done great. He had a great practice yesterday."

On the value of game film from last year's game against Illinois affected by the new coaching staff...

"We watched it a whole bunch looking at the personnel. I think it helps us evaluate their personnel but their defense is different, their offense is different. It's all new coordinators so from a schematic standpoint it didn't help us at all. From a personnel standpoint, studying their personnel, that is what we mostly used it for."

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