ASU football moves ahead with health, bowl eligibility at the forefront of its concerns

The Sun Devils are focused on self-correction in preparation for No. 7 Washington

ASU football head coach Todd Graham and the Sun Devils (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) didn't want to spend too much time dwelling on Thursday’s 49-26 Senior Night loss to then-No. 15 Utah at Monday's weekly press conference.

But perhaps it’s worth another look. After all, the Utes (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South and have played arguably their best football since joining the conference.

Utah defensive end Hunter Dimick is tied with Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson for the most sacks in FBS, with 12. Utah defensive back Chase Hansen has posted 88 return yards on his three interceptions – good for 21st in the country in interception return yards – including a 34-yarder on a pick-six off of redshirt sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins.

“We were disappointed obviously, because we thought we could have won,” Graham said. “We wanted those guys to go out in their last game at Sun Devil Stadium as winners.”

The Sun Devils got out to a 13-0 lead early, and had a peak win probability of 79.1 percent, while still holding a 54.3 percent chance of winning (per ESPN) early in the third quarter when the Utes led, 21-20.

“We’ve got a lot to play for in these last two games,” Graham said. “An opportunity to get an extra game, as a well as a chance to play one of the best teams in the country this week.”

Graham said ASU’s upcoming opponent, No. 7 Washington, “is probably the best team in our league,” and that the Huskies (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) are better than anyone else in the Pac-12 at creating explosive plays on offense.

Led by junior wide receiver John Ross, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, and junior quarterback Jake Browning, a Heisman Trophy candidate, Washington has posted the third-most efficient offense in the country, behind only No. 8 Oklahoma and No. 3 Louisville.

Graham assessed his defensive strategy in the Utah game, in which pressure was limited once again.

“Our plan was to keep it in front and inside,” Graham said. “We didn’t do that on two occasions, and gave up two touchdowns there, and gave up two long touchdown runs.”

Graham acknowledged that the turnovers his defense has created — as well as sacks and tackles for loss — has gone down with the decline in blitzing.

While ASU does rank 16th in solo tackles for loss, the Sun Devils are 143 yards shy of last year’s total of 445 tackle yards, albeit with two games still to play.

He also mentioned that the turnover margin, which has been a key point of emphasis for ASU, has been disappointing at -3. Washington has the nation’s best turnover margin at +15.

Despite losing four straight and being on the wrong end of some statistical trends, Graham said the mood in the locker room hasn’t dampened.

“There’s not an ounce of give-up in our guys,” Graham said. “You see the character and the development that we have. Are there things we’ve gotta get better at? Yeah.”

In a moment of introspection, Graham added, "most of the issues still, are things that we can correct." 

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