Arizona State head football coach Todd Graham is never one to mince words which had myself and the rest of the media pondering his post-scrimmage remarks as the Sun Devils wrapped up their near week-long stay at Camp Tontozona outside Payson Saturday afternoon.
“We’re not the defending Super Bowl champs and I think that’s kinda the way we acted,” Graham explained on the field. “I was very disappointed in that. We did not play very well defensively at all.”
Throughout the 100+ play scrimmage in front of a sea of maroon and gold fans Graham and his defensive assistants could be seen and even more clearly heard, screaming at defensive players (mainly in the secondary) for missed assignments or silly penalties.
This is where it’s tough to decipher if Graham was as visibly upset as he sounded or was simply sending a message to certain players to step up their game before the Devils open their season September 5 against Sacramento State.
The entire ASU staff applauded senior leaders like Will Sutton, Alden Darby and Carl Bradford for their leadership skills mentoring younger players on and off the field but you’d expect more cohesion from the returning players between spring workouts and fall camp being well underway.
Senior safety Darby didn’t seem too concerned.
“We have a lot more leaders [on the defensive side],” he said. “We’re all together.”
Offensively, junior quarterback Taylor Kelly was nearly flawless (4-6, 72 yards, two touchdowns) marching the ball up and down the field seemingly at will.
“We moved the ball a lot. The only time we got stopped was by ourselves with some penalties and a sack. [Back-up quarterbacks] Mike Eubank (10-15, 164 yards, two touchdowns) and Mike Bercovici (7-17, 187 yards, two touchdowns), each really played great.”
So now Graham and his staff return to Tempe to study the film and figure out what needs the most attention before workouts pick up early next week.
He says it can start finding the chip-on-the-shoulder which propelled ASU to eight wins in 2012.
“We’re not the defending champions. We’re the contender. That’s the way we need to approach it.”
Better to find out now than next month when the Devils try to navigate a tricky opening part of the schedule.
Only time will tell and right now it’s clear, at least defensively, they need more of it.