Todd Graham was naturally in good spirits after the win.
“I was really proud of our team, I was really proud of our guys,” Graham said. “We talked specifically of what we are trying to do, 100% ball security, we wanted four takeaways, and we wanted zero penalties. I think they did a real good job and obviously dominated a team that we should dominate.”
The game started out with Sacramento State orchestrating a 16-play, 59-yard drive that ultimately ended with a Robert Nelson blocked field goal. Junior quarterback Garrett Safron led the Hornets down the field, converting on four third downs before stalling at the ASU 16.
“Wow, give them a lot of credit for that,” Graham said. “They got four or five first downs. I thought we were kind of sluggish at first and then came on. I was trying to figure out a way to stop them. One of the things that I was not pleased with was in that drive, we were misaligned. So I was a little bit perturbed on that drive, but I got over it.”
After that drive, the ASU defense only allowed two more first downs. Run defense was a concern that carried over from last year into the offseason and was a main focus of the coaching staff coming into 2013. On Thursday, the Sun Devils gave up 51 yards on 31 carries from the Hornets. Needless to say, Graham was happy with his defense’s effort.
“Yeah I don’t think I could’ve had it go any better than it did,” Graham said. “I like the fact that we got challenged a bit on that first drive. One of the things I wanted to do was be dominant in the rush game on defense. We gave up a few passes I didn’t like but like I said I’d rather be stopping that run.”
Last year around this time, junior quarterback Taylor Kelly was trying to prove to his coaches why they should be confident with him as the starter going forward. Now with a full year of game experience under his belt, Kelly has great command of the offense and really set the tone of the game from the get-go, connecting with De’Marieya Nelson on the first drive for one of his five touchdown passes of the night.
“He’s a heck of a quarterback and leader,” Graham said of Kelly. “I think his decision-making and you can see how comfortable he feels in the pocket and operating our system. You can see tonight, there’s a lot more people to spread that ball around to. I know we have a very good offense and I know we have a chance to win a championship because we have a championship caliber quarterback.”
Kelly connected with eight different receivers on the night, a result of the improved playmakers on the outside.
Graham’s mantra of no penalties is engrained into his players’ brains, so much so that he heard players coaching other players during the game about not committing any. He was worried because he had been seeing penalties in practice, but the Sun Devils only had one against Sacramento State, a delay of game in the third quarter.
Senior linebacker Chris Young went down with a knee injury in the latter part of the first quarter. While he did walk off on his own power, Young didn’t come back into the game.
“I think he’s fine,” Graham said. “He had a little tweak, I don’t think it’s anything serious but we will see. He got it checked out, and he was up walking around, iced it down a little bit and we will see where he’s at. He’s pretty tough, though.”
No true freshman outside of kicker Zane Gonzalez saw the field on Thursday night. Graham said that being cautious is key when deciding whether or not to play them.
“That’s a big decision,” Graham said. “I am 100% committed to 2013 but I also want to be smart about what we are doing. We got a lot of quality players in that freshman class. And there’s no way we are going to redshirt all of them. But I don’t want to play somebody in a mop-up duty situation and then regret it.”
Graham went on to say that although he doesn’t want to waste a possible redshirt, he does think that several of the freshman wide receivers will play as the year goes along.
All in all, the Sun Devils came out and took care of business against a weaker Sacramento State team. While it was a good tune-up, Graham knows that the Hornets aren’t even close to being on the same level as their next opponent, Wisconsin.
“It’s one game, we need to stay focused and stay humble,” Graham said. “I’m fired up, we’ve got the Big 10 champion coming in and I was very, very excited about our students (on Thursday). I think that’s the most that’s ever attended a game, they were packed in there. I know this place is going to be rockin’ next week and our guys are looking forward to it.”