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Oregon looms in ASU football's path toward strong finish

The Sun Devils come off their bye week with a key matchup against the defending Pac-12 champion Ducks

Redshirt senior wide receiver Gary Chambers (81) dives toward the end zone during a contest against USC on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. The ASU football squad lost to the visiting USC Trojans 42-14.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Gary Chambers (81) dives toward the end zone during a contest against USC on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. The ASU football squad lost to the visiting USC Trojans 42-14.

ASU football needs one thing, much like it has during most of head coach Todd Graham's tenure.

A strong finish.

Following a bye week that allowed the program to regroup after a 34-18 loss to then-No. 4 Utah, Graham and Co. will have a chance to do just that.

The key, he said, was getting better in late October and November. 

"What I find that's so challenging as a coach, the key is to get better," Graham said. "You stay the same, you're going to lose. You stay the same, you're not going no win. It doesn't matter how good you are. The team that gets better every week is the one that's going to be left standing at the end, and in this league it's never the one everybody expects."

Graham said the foundation was there — ASU accomplished its goals in 2012 and 2013 in finishing strong, even claiming its first Pac-12 South title in 2013 after early losses to Stanford and Notre Dame.

In 2014, it went the opposite way, dropping two of its final three games after reaching as high as No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

"How you finish is so important, and we faded last year," Graham said. "Man, we were strong, and then we went and lost a couple of games we shouldn't have lost, finished up good, but at the end of the day — and it was different in 2013. You know, you got towards the end of the season, went over to the Rose Bowl and clinched it in decisive fashion." 

In 2012, the Sun Devils turned it on after a four-game midseason losing streak, eventually throttling Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.

The road to salvaging the 2015 season begins at Sun Devil Stadium Thursday night against Oregon.

"The problem is I wish the adversity would quit happening, and so now there's no margin for error," Graham said. "There's no responding to adversity. You have to win every game to even have a chance."

For the Sun Devils to shift back into contention, they'll need to improve their 47.6 percent offensive efficiency rating, which is 67th among FBS teams and eighth in the Pac-12.

Much of the team's offensive struggles can be attributed to turnovers. The Sun Devils have already fumbled 19 times this season (losing eight) and thrown five interceptions, producing a turnover ratio of -4 that would not only be the worst of Graham's tenure to date, but also be the first time a Graham-coached ASU team would ever finish with a negative margin.

The offense has also struggled with tempo. While earning first downs is the key to getting an up-tempo offense going, Graham expressed frustration with the pace of his team's offense.

"Have we played to our potential offensively?" Graham said. "No. The number one thing that we focused on for two weeks is ball security, taking care of the football and getting our speed and our tempo going."

Bercovici reiterated that increasing the team speed will open up options for the offense.

"I think it can never be fast enough," Bercovici said. "I think when you start going fast and go faster, that's just the fun part about being a tempo. We've got guys getting lined up. It all starts with setting your feet and just having a sense of urgency."

Additional Notes

- Graham said Monday that he for the most part is no longer with the team's defensive playacting, with much of the responsibility falling on co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson.

"As a matter of fact, Coach Patterson is calling almost every defense now and doing a tremendous job," Graham said. "No one really notices that. I actually signal for him because I communicate with him. That's the honest truth."

Related Links:

Health, forcing turnovers points of emphasis for ASU football

ASU football looking for more from its playmakers

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