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Todd Graham Press Conference Quotes - 9/23
Courtesy: Sun Devil Athletics
Release: 09/23/2013
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“Offensively, obviously they’ve got big time talent, big time play makers; their running backs, wide receivers, they’re as good as you can play against. They’re a good team. We have to get prepared and get hard at work and get our guys ready.”

On what he takes from Saturday’s experience:

“Well, one, we got beat by a really good football team. Obviously, we weren’t ready to play. I think we played very, very poorly in the first half—made every mistake we could possibly make, and we just didn’t give ourselves a chance because of kicking game errors and stuff like that. We had a lot of mistakes in the kicking game, which put us behind. Field position was critical from the opening kickoff, they run it back to the 50. I’m really proud of how our guys battled and how we came back. This team has great character. To be down like that, it was a shock to me that we would play that bad and make that many mistakes, and we just weren’t ready to play—came out flat and made a lot of errors on special teams. We got so far behind, but our guys showed great heart and character coming back, and fighting back the way they did. I think the last two games we’ve been behind in both of them and our guys have showed great character in those games. There’s not much you can say, but what you can take away from that game is we played poorly, and you can’t make those kinds of mistakes.  We don’t give ourselves a chance when you make that many mistakes like that. Special teams was the glaring deal, and then we had the one turnover early that hurt, but we had three or four critical errors in coverage in the secondary that we haven’t had up until this point and they got us behind in a hurry. When you get behind like that it’s hard to come back but our guys showed great heart and character. That’s what we brought out of the game, and obviously we didn’t play very well.”

On special teams becoming the primary focus:

“We make it the primary focus every week. The way we go and prepare, we don’t react to the way one thing’s going or another thing’s going. A lot of the things are very correctable mistakes that we made, areas that had been very good up until this game. A lot of these things you have to give credit to the other team that we were playing because they were a lot better prepared than we were and played a lot better than we did. Yes, after you have that many mistakes in the kicking game it will be a major priority, but it is every week. Early in the season you have to emphasize those things. Obviously, we do. We can’t spend anymore meeting time or practice time on special teams—it’s the most I’ve ever spent, so that will be our focus this week but, on the same hand, it’s things we have to get corrected and be better prepared and be performing better than what we did Saturday.”

On Jaxon Hood and the pass rush through the first three weeks:

“I think our defensive line has played very well. I actually watch the game like a lot of people, and we’ve given up perimeter runs, we got outflanked against Wisconsin, basically gave up 112 yards on the speed sweep which they ran three times, and then 125 of the yards the rest of the time against what I think is maybe the best tailback there is in the country. They broke the big long one on us there. Last week, I think was a different animal. We did give up some plays, but I thought, for their system and their scheme, we just gave up some 20, an 18-yard run, there were some 10, 11-yard runs in there that they blocked us up, but our defensive line, I know Will (Sutton), Carl (Bradford), they have been very physical. Carl was very active this last game, but we had some mistakes and things like that. Obviously, Jaxon (Hood) getting hurt hurt us. I think Jake (Sheffield) did a great job filling in, Mo (Latu) did a great job filling in, but Jaxon has a lot of experience and they ran the ball right there and took advantage of that and made some plays there. They are a really, really good football team, and they’re really different. People don’t understand how they are a really good football team, but they have seven offensive linemen on the field at one time. They’re very hard to fit up. I think our defensive line, it’s the last thing I’m worried about right now. Obviously, with Jaxon out we’re concerned, but our defensive line has played—I think Chris Young and our defensive line, (Osahon) Irabor—have been the bright spots so far. Our guys are playing extremely hard, we just got behind and then we panicked a little bit, made some critical errors, gave up some deep throws, just absolutely blown coverages that we haven’t had during the first couple of weeks, but I’m very pleased with how our defensive line is playing. We haven’t been in a game where anybody has attempted very many passes, and we knew that going in, that’s why we spent so much time working on 22, 23-personnel power running game.”

On Jaxon Hood playing against USC:

“I doubt it; he’d be very doubtful this week.”

On the team being better because of this experience:

“Yeah, I think you have to get better every week. Obviously, your choice is to win and to learn from winning, and I don’t think you learn a lot from losing. I just don’t think we showed up and played very well. I think our guys were very prepared to play. I think we had a good week of practice working our tails off. As disappointing as it was, I think we are a lot better than what Saturday indicated by making so many mistakes in the kicking game that didn’t give us a chance early, so that’s kind of what I take out of the deal. You have to go back to work and with how things are, we’ve got USC, and then it’s a pretty tough go here. You go win this one and everybody loves you again.”

On the running game:

“That has been our biggest concern. We’ve been a faster tempo, but we have not run the ball the way we need to run the ball, that’s probably the biggest concern there. If you ask me the biggest concerns, defensively, blown coverages in the secondary that have resulted in one long run against Wisconsin, and a couple of long passes against Stanford have been defensively our biggest concern, which we can fix. Offensively, it’s the run game. We have to be able to run the football and be able to come off the ball and move people. We haven’t done very well with that so far.”

On how often Will Sutton gets double-teamed:

“Almost most of the time. What I mean by that is whether they’re sliding to him and doubling with the center or the guard, or they’ll put a back on him and chip him, but in all the pass plays he’s been extremely active. I think Carl (Bradford) really did some good things, but obviously he’s getting one block, but most of the time (Sutton) he gets the center tracking him or a back chipping to him.”

On anybody else working into the mix with Jaxon Hood injured:

“I think Gannon (Conway) will be down in there. I think Gannon can hold the point—he’s 280 pounds, he’ll play some in there as well and we’ll have to do that because Mo (Latu) can’t play every down; he’s limited about how many snaps he can play, probably 10 or 15. We’ll probably use Davon (Coleman) and maybe (Marcus) Hardison maybe can kick out there and handle it a bit. We’ll probably do some moves like that, and Gannon is a very, very consistent for us, very steady, very smart and so he’ll probably end up playing in there as well.”

On if D.J. Foster is now a strictly a wideout:

“No. No, he’s a running back and we’re doing the same things we did last year with him.”

On Chris Coyle and his growth since Graham took over:

“I think Chis will tell you that when we got hired, I think he knew from the system that we were bringing here how special that position was. Then we came here and we didn’t have to have many conversations with him, we just had to show him the film and how we utilized a tight end. He’s been fired up ever since. He was pretty excited when I got here and he knew the style of offense we were going to play and how we utilize that three-back position. Obviously he had a great year last year, sixth in receptions, and obviously that position is one he likes a lot.”

On any individuals who caught his attention warranting more playing time:

“Salamo (Fiso); he played, he really stepped up. One of the things, too, we really look at and some of the time something we don’t think about, is he’s a redshirt freshman. Laiu (Moeakiola) is a redshirt freshman. We’ve got two redshirt freshman out there playing. But no, (Fiso) really has stepped up and is a guy who in the second half showed a lot. He’ll be a guy who is in the starting rotation; he’ll be a starter this week.”

On Marqise Lee and the challenges he presents:

“The thing you have to do with (USC), first and foremost, is you have to stop the running game. They’re averaging 176 yards a game rushing, so that has to be our number one focus. Then, obviously, the big play. He gets the ball quite a bit and he gets the ball about 20 percent of the time, and he’s got the other receivers around him who are pretty special as well. They have big play capabilities, they’ve had two games, they’ve scored over 30 points, and then the other two games they struggled a little bit to score points, but a lot of near misses in those games that could’ve been big plays. We have to stop the run first. I think if I had last year to do over again, we had a good plan and got a lot of good takeaway from them, but late in they were able to run the ball and that was a difference in the game. We turned the football over on offense, which was tough, but I think we have to stop the run. We have to be focused on that and then we have to contain the pass and make sure you don’t give up cheap ones—that’s a challenge.”

On the USC defense changing:

“I’m an attack person, so what they’re doing now I think is something I like better because I’m an attack person. I think they’ve got the personnel to run what they’re running and do a very good job at what they’re running. They blitz and attack an awful lot and try to create negative plays and they do a good job with it. Coach (Clancy) Pendergast is a good football coach and did a good job last year at Cal and is doing a good job there.”

On Saturday after the game being as frustrated as he’s been here:

“We work really hard, and I’m a competitor so I’m going to be very sportsmanlike, but I don’t like losing. I definitely don’t like beating ourselves like that and not giving ourselves a chance. That’s not to say that if we would’ve played our best football game, and they would’ve played, I thought, one of their best games, because that was the best game to date—and I knew they had not done a lot to that point and they had not showed much, but it would have came down to a drive or a series, and I think you can see that as we come roaring back in the second half. We just didn’t give ourselves a chance because we beat ourselves in just about any way that we can beat ourselves. The big thing was the kicking game and field position is what really, really hurt us. If you’re going to play them there then they’re very difficult to defend. They’re just as unique as any spread offense in how they utilize the multiple offensive linemen in their set. Number 98 (Joshua Garnett), for example, was 320 pounds. He lines up at tight end wing, but that guy is an offensive lineman. They had 51 at fullback at one point, so both tight ends were offensive linemen; five offensive linemen and two tight ends, that’s seven, and a fullback that’s number 51 that’s an offensive lineman, so they’re very innovative about what they’re doing and what they’re doing is they’re so efficient at making you adjust that you have to use different groupings and things, and we blew two coverages and that’s how they had so much success off the play-action pass.  I was frustrated with myself more than anything, and I thought we had them prepared and I think the things that caught me off guard were mistakes we made in the kicking game; they were really catastrophic early. We got behind 29-0, but I think most teams are just going to talk about finishing with pride, and we didn’t do that. We came in at halftime and said, ‘Look, we’re going to play to win’, and I think those guys believed they could, and we came out roaring back. I think, no doubt, I would agree with you, the most upset I was because that’s a game I wanted really bad to win, and not play well in, but win. We didn’t give ourselves a chance and that’s frustrating because that’s my job to prepare our team to do that, and we fell short of that.”

On what he first saw in Jaelen Strong:

“A lot of the things that he’s doing. One of the things I would tell you is he’s not even in shape yet. He didn’t get here until the end of July or somewhere in there, or maybe even report date, he might not have gotten here until report date, it was late. He’s not in shape and he’s still learning our offense, but the thing that sticks out to me was obviously the explosiveness he had. If you sit down and talk to him, I said this last week, but very few guys that play at the caliber that he’s going to play at, he’s not even very close to being at where he can play at, but he is about to fall down on the sideline. We were getting ready to do the onside kick and he can barely stand up he was so worn out. The catch he made on the fourth down play was phenomenal. Not two days go by that he doesn’t come up to me and thank me for giving him the opportunity. He has a really special mom and a really special granddad that I remember in the process spending time with and I’m really proud for him and he’s going to be a special player. Remember, he’s got three years, so he’s just getting started.”

On how difficult it is for defenses to defend the back-shoulder pass between Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong:

“That’s only going to get better—these guys have only been throwing to each other for two months. You think about that. He received his first pass the first day of camp and I don’t think he could practice until the second or third day. He’s obviously a big target, and you can tell they’re starting to get a bit of a rhythm and hopefully that can continue to get better.”

On the punting situation and who will handle duties:

“Yeah, the thing that’s so frustrating about that is if you watch in pregame, both of those guys are killing the ball—absolutely killing it. I think it really has a lot to do with experience and just getting that calmed down, but in the game on Saturday it was not the punter’s fault, it was the shield’s fault who was lined up too deep in the backfield. Those are errors that are linemen errors, which are preparation errors, which should not happen. We have not punted the ball very well, I cannot deny that, but we’re very capable of doing that. We have to approach every day by going to attack things, and like I always say from playing this game and coaching it for a long time, there’s two types of people: players that go out there and try not to mess up, and then players that go out there and play. You have to go out there and play. You have to prepare and be smart about what you’re doing, but I’ve got confidence we’re going to get that going. We were very, very blessed to have a pretty special guy last year, and I think with those two punters we have they will wind up being very good players for us, but they need to do it this week.”

On what it means to coach with his son Bo:

“You should probably ask him that. Being a coach is the greatest job there is. I think one of the most important jobs in our country right now is being a teacher and influencing young people. He’s grown up in a field house and has worked with me. He started working for me as a student-assistant at West Virginia and then at Tulsa, and then when I went to Rice he was on the strength staff; he coached running backs for me at Tulsa. I thought it was very important that he get out there on his own and learn a little bit, so he went and coached high school, he was the offensive coordinator there at a high school there in Tulsa. He went with me when I went to Pitt. It’s worked a little bit better for him being a recruiting person, and now Mike (Norvell) totally runs the offense, and I really don’t have much interaction with him other than special teams a little bit. It’s nice; it’s enjoyable. I can remember coaching him in high school, and that’s one of the reasons why I coached him was I wanted the opportunity to influence my son. I remember standing on the sidelines, he caught the game winner with six seconds left, and it’s about the only time I ever cried on the sideline—I stopped that in a hurry. Just being able to be around him at the office and stuff is something that makes you feel good, that he wants to do the same stuff that I’ve done and wants to spend his life doing it, and your family does make a sacrifice. I know my wife and my kids, I know sometimes I’m better to my football kids than I am to my own kids, and it’s because it’s a passion. I love it; I love doing it. People talk about working and stuff like that, and I don’t work a day in my life. I love this; even Saturday I love it. It’s part of it and we’re building something special. It’s a special thing to get to be on the staff with him and he’s doing a great job for us with recruiting right now. He lets me know that every day. It’s a lot of fun. I can tell you this, if you ask me how it is to coach with Coach Norvell, I’ll tell you the same thing, because I feel the same way about him. He’s a coach that in a lot of ways I look at as a father figure. We have a close group, and I know I’m very demanding so they have to care about me to stay and endure it. I have a lot of confidence in those guys. It’s a lot of fun. People kind of get taken back sometimes because Bo refers to me as Coach, he doesn’t refer to me as dad. His whole life I have been coach, so it’s a little different. When he wants something, when he wants money or wants me to buy him a car, it’s dad, but everything else is coach. He’s Coach Bo, there’s only one Coach Graham.” 

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