Todd Graham: Ball security, explosive plays keys for ASU football to beat UCLA

Todd Graham's defense will need to create turnovers and limit big plays to defeat No. 11 UCLA Thursday. (Photo by Kyle Newman) Todd Graham's defense will need to create turnovers and limit big plays to defeat No. 11 UCLA Thursday. (Photo by Kyle Newman)

Todd Graham seemed confident in his weekly press confidence Monday that ASU football will win its upcoming game. That’s just how he usually is every week.

But this week, it’s a little surprising, considering what the team is heading into for Thursday’s game against No. 11 UCLA. ASU will be without redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Kelly heading into its first contest against a ranked opponent. Most Vegas sports books are declaring the Bruins as a five-point favorite over the Sun Devils.

None of that matters to Graham, though. He knows exactly what to expect for Thursday’s game.

“I think they know what we do and we know what they do," Graham said. "There’s just two very explosive offensive football teams, and I think that’s going to be a big factor of the game."

Since the postgame interviews following the Colorado game, Graham has preached ball security throughout the bye week and heading into game week. He said that’s the only thing he’s talked about with junior running back D.J. Foster and redshirt junior quarterback Mike Bercovici.

With little surprise, it was part of the offensive keys to the game that he outlined during the presser.

“No. 1 thing is going to be ball security — owning the football … turnover ratio is obviously huge in this game,” he said. “But I think (making) explosive plays is second. Both years we’ve played them, they’ve made explosive plays.”

Then there’s also UCLA’s offense that has caught Graham’s eye. Although Bruins redshirt junior quarterback Brett Hundley will likely play Thursday, Graham respects both Hundley and redshirt sophomore quarterback Jerry Neuheisel as playmakers under center. The Bruins’ rushing attack has also impressed Graham, and that’s what he believes ASU needs to lock down first.

“First thing we got to do to be successful defensively is stop the run, so that’ll be our focus,” he said. “And then, we’ll control the pass.”

As for the state of the Sun Devils, Graham said the team has had several great practices over the past couple of weeks and expressed confidence in his newer players for their development in recent weeks. He said his defensive backs like redshirt senior Damarious Randall and redshirt juniors Jordan Simone and Lloyd Carrington make up a better secondary than ASU had last year. Overall, the veterans have already won Graham’s respect this season, and it’s just a matter of the newcomers continuing to get better as the schedule gets more strenuous.

“I do think the development of those young freshmen is the key for us,” he said.

Graham not tired of QB attention

The main storyline heading into Thursday’s game has obviously been about which quarterbacks will play for each team.

All week, Graham has fielded media questions about Bercovici and if he’s ready heading into Thursday. It’s not fazing Graham, though, and he continues to express confidence in Bercovici.

“You can only worry about the things you can control, but sure, it’s a big deal,” Graham said.

Devilbacker update

Graham said redshirt junior linebacker at Antonio Longino and redshirt senior tight end De’Marieya Nelson will split time at Devilbacker.

“De’Marieya will have more plays there than he’s had in the past,” Graham said.

Reach the reporter at or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion

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