Nonetheless, the caliber of opponent was much higher than last week’s which naturally made Todd Graham especially pleased with tonight’s win.
Against a team that Arizona State struggled mightily against last year, Todd Graham wasn’t only pleased with the outcome but also believes it is a step in the right direction.
“I feel like this was a big test for us, going up against a Big Ten team,” Graham said, “and a very strong one at that. We went out and dominated them. I love the way our guys are playing disciplined.” Graham, ASU ‘passed a big test tonight.’
Despite playing against a stout Illinois defense the Sun Devils were able to execute their game plan, posting 510 yards of total offense.
“We’re going to take what the defense gives us,” Graham explained. “Our offensive scheme is something we’ve developed over the last decade, and it’s one that is based on attacking what the defense is doing. So the key is to make sure you have a person distributing the ball.”
Their main concern was to trying to negate the Illinois pass rush, and force the Illini to play up to ASU’s tempo.
“They had a really good pass rusher, and I felt we needed to get the ball out quick and stretch them horizontally’” Graham stated. “(Offensive Coordinator) Coach Norvell is doing an unbelievable job, and he came up with a great plan with the offensive staff. Our plan was to stretch the midfield horizontally on these guys, and not let them play in a box, and that’s what they’re used to doing in the Big Ten. We made them defend the field.”
Graham was also very pleased with the play of both of his quarterbacks and believes they are turning into a dominating combination.
“What our quarterbacks are doing right now is remarkable,” Graham noted. “They’re checking and getting us into the right plays, the options, and the things they are doing are phenomenal. Those two are dynamic, and they’re hard to stop.”
Even with the enormous success the team enjoyed on offense, Graham sees a number of areas that the Sun Devils can improve upon.
“We played faster tonight,” Graham said. “Our tempo was better. We’re not fast enough yet, but I’m just really proud of how our guys played. There are a lot of things we can get better on. We turned the ball over a couple of times, and we can’t do that. We should have scored 60 points in my opinion.”
A surprising standout on defense was true freshman linebacker Carlos Mendoza, who had two of ASU’s three interceptions tonight.
“I’m really proud of him [Carlos Mendoza],” Graham said. “What a player he is going to be. To be coming in there as a freshman and pick off two passes like that is phenomenal.”
The only thing that could damper Mendoza’s breakout performance tonight was a shoulder injury in the third quarter. Nonetheless, Graham doesn’t believe this will be a long term setback.
“He’s going to be okay,” Graham claimed. “I don’t think it’s anything that is going to put him out for an extended period of time. I’m a pretty good doctor in diagnosing each player if they’re going to be good for us.”
Graham acknowledged that linebacker Brandon Magee’s presence was surely missed on the field (due to a concussion), and that it led to some communication breakdowns that normally never happen during a game.
“I thought Brandon was going to play up until Friday morning,” Graham commented, “so with him not playing really threw a lot off. He’s a guy that quarterbacks a lot of that stuff, so it was substitution reasons why we were calling timeouts. And we can’t do that, it’s going to hurt us in big games, but I’m trying to teach them and we’re working hard. I think I lost about seven pounds tonight, because I had to work a little bit.”
Two games into the season ASU still hasn’t committed a penalty on defense, and Graham doesn’t see that group committing one anytime soon.
“Our goal was zero penalties,” Graham stated, “and the only person who got a penalty was me, and we took a delay so we could back the punt up a little bit. I’m really proud to go two games with no penalties on defense or special teams. It was a lot of work, and we have a good football team.”
One of the biggest things that the ASU Head Coach was pleased with, was his players’ team-first attitude that they continued to display throughout the contest.
“Nobody cares how many yards or how many points; nothing is said about that in the locker room,” Graham described. “All we are focused on is winning and winning the right way. I’m really proud of them, and I’m really lucky to be doing what I’m doing. What a great group of kids. It’s a joy to work with them.”
Coach Graham was also content by the fan turn out and credits them with helping the team beat Illinois.
“I want to shout out to the Sun Devil faithful,” Graham stated. “It was awesome. I want to encourage when we come back home for Utah (contest), I’d love to see Wells Fargo (Arena) packed. But what an incredible reception, what an incredible tradition (Devil Walk) we’re starting. The crowd was awesome; it was unbelievable. I’m so proud of them as well. That’s why I throw the game ball in the stands every time we win because they’re our 12th man. I’m so thankful. It was a big time atmosphere tonight, so hands up to the Sun Devil Nation.”
With a tough road game at Missouri looming large this Saturday, Graham knows that that things will only get more challenging for his team now that they have experienced success with a 2-0 start.
“We have to keep our head down and be able to handle success,” Graham said. “It gets harder each week. In my opinion it’s harder than heck to handle adversity, but it’s even harder to handle success. Now we go on the road against an SEC opponent, but I’m just really proud of our staff and our players.
“We’re working really hard to deliver to our fans what we said we would.”