Todd Graham discusses progress of program, health of defense

Arizona Sports News online

When Todd Graham took over the Arizona State program a little less than a year ago he came with a plan.

A plan needed to erase the ugly stigma left behind by Dennis Erickson and a collection of players who crumbled down the stretch last season.

The Sun Devils (5-2, 3-1) find themselves in a similar position to a year ago facing the strength of their schedule over the second half of the season starting with the UCLA Bruins (5-2, 2-2) Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.

To this point, Graham has been pleased with the progress he’s seen on the field.

“I think we’ve done really well,” he explained to Brad Cesmat Wednesday on ‘Big Guy on Sports.’ “I think we’re right about where I thought we’d be, maybe a little bit better. We’ve made great strides in their character development, developing a new system, and changing the culture.”

Graham also said his scholar-athletes have improved their performance in the classroom raising the overall team GPA nearly a quarter of a point in one semester. Both the work on and off the field has established a solid foundation to build the program moving forward.

This weekend the Devils will look to bounce back from last week’s blowout loss to Oregon and may have to face versatile UCLA redshirt freshman quarterback and former Chandler High standout Brett Hundley without star interior lineman Will Sutton, who was hurt on the first play from scrimmage against the Ducks and did not return.

“We were really blessed because it wound up just being a bone bruise,” Graham said to Cesmat describing the injury. “He has been out at practice doing stuff with the trainer…he’s going to be back sooner rather than later. If that’s this weekend, I really don’t know.”

ASU did receive some good news when it was announced defensive end Junior Onyeali was cleared to play this weekend and defensive tackle Mike Pennell who was reinstated to the program following a suspension for poor attitude three weeks ago. Graham said he has been practicing with the team this week, but wasn’t sure if he’ll play against the Bruins.

He said one of the biggest adjustments he and his staff have had to make in their first year in the Pac-12 is adjusting to the varying schematics from team-to-team on a weekly basis and the offensive production from top-to-bottom in the conference.

“You’re middle of the road in this league if you average 400 yards a game. You’re sixth or seventh on the list. The key is defense. There’s great athletes, great speed on the field. I’ve been very impressed.”

Kickoff Saturday for homecoming is 12:00 with television coverage on FX.

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