“After going and looking at the film and watching things, really proud of our guys’ efforts and we were really close on a lot of things,” Graham said. “I think the biggest thing that hurt us in that game is obviously just not enough opportunities, not enough plays offensively, and that had to do with them sustaining drives and executing. The turnovers were obviously the difference in the game and we missed two critical interceptions, one that would’ve been for a touchdown. So it was just a game that we were very close in.”
Graham said that he thought the play that truly decided the outcome of the game was the Richard Smith fumble in the third quarter. There’s no question that Smith has struggled in his sophomore campaign, but that has made others in the WR unit step up, namely Jaelen Strong, who’s been a dominant force to say the least.
Strong hauled in eight passes for 136 yards including a touchdown, marking his fourth straight performance of 100+ yards receiving. Strong has been at the forefront of a receiving corps that has undoubtedly been one of the best in the nation.
“Jaelen is getting better every week and believe it or not fundamentally he can play a lot better than what he’s playing,” Graham said. “I love his attitude; he’s got a great attitude. I think Cameron (Smith) has a lot of potential, obviously a young guy trying to figure all of this out. Kevin (Ozier) has been a steady force for us and he’s got to continue to be a leader for us for that group.
“D.J. has got to get more opportunities; I don’t think he had as many opportunities as he needed to have. But I think Jaelen has been playing at a high level, so we have got to get these other guys playing at a higher level too.”
The four-game ‘gauntlet’ is over, and the Sun Devils came away with a 2-2 record in that stretch. While the game against Colorado may be a bounce back tilt, it doesn’t get much easier with the quality of opponents in the Pac-12 left on Arizona State’s schedule.
Being 3-2 after their first five games may look like a disappointment for all of the talk of a national championship before the season began, but Graham is happy with his team’s progress.
“I feel good about where we are,” Graham said. “Obviously we wanted to be 5-0, and we were very close to being 4-1, and that would’ve been nice. But we have got a good football team, we’ve got a lot better football team than we had this time last year, a lot better. I just go through and evaluate our positions and where we are at; we are better at every place and we’ve got a legitimate shot to be in this thing, just got to take it one week at a time. We have got to go beat Colorado and then go to the next one.
“This is a very competitive league, and there’s a lot of parody. But there’s no doubt that our goals are still in our reach because I do think we have the talent. We just got done playing Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame back to back to back to back, and that’s going to make us a better football team down the road.”
Coming off of that four-game stint, Arizona State’s defensive performance is nowhere near where it was last year at this point, especially in the tackles for loss and sack departments.
Looking ahead to Colorado, the Buffalos are averaging only 3.1 yards per carry and rank 110th in the nation in rushing yards per game with 110.3, so there will be an opportunity to worry less about the rush and more about getting after the quarterback in this game.
“Obviously you have got to pressure the quarterback and I think you’ll see that,” Graham said. “Colorado is not the caliber rushing attack that we’ve played against but you can’t under estimate these guys either. Their coach has done a great job; he is a very good football coach. But yes we should see a lot more production from that. We have to up that productivity.
A lot of people look and say where were you last year at this point with TFLs and sacks; it wasn’t even close, but it’s also because we were playing different people. Now we are playing the same people we played last year, so we better see that productivity going way up for us to be successful.”
Graham said he’s been impressed with the way Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre prepares his team to compete each and every week.
“They’ve got their guys playing with a spirit, you can tell that they are playing hard and that they are passionate about what they are doing. The caliber team we’ve been playing and where they’re at right now is a little bit different and what will happen is guys will say ‘this is not going to be as big of a challenge.’ You can’t do that because they can definitely beat you, there’s no question about it. There’s not anybody in the Pac-12 that can’t beat another team.
“The danger is not taking another team seriously.”