Graham: ‘awful lot of adversity’ cost ASU game to Mizzou

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“The amount of adversity we faced was a bunch.”

In his own inimitable aw-shucks style, that was Todd Graham‘s way of explaining in his weekly press conference what happened when his Sun Devils met Missouri over the weekend.  After two home wins, Graham lost his first game as Arizona State‘s new head football coach when the Tigers squeezed out a 24-20 victory in Columbia.

Unfortunately, most of the ‘adversity’ was self-imposed as ASU struggled with penalties and turnovers at critical points in the game.

“We hadn’t faced any adversity until this game,” Graham added in his opening statement yesterday, alluding to the fact that his team had outscored its first two opponents 108-20.  “We faced an awful lot in one game (against Mizzou).”

Translation:  We had five procedure penalties, a couple of personal fouls, two interceptions, a couple of fumbles that included one on the first punt return of the game, and a couple bad snaps – one of which cost the Devils a point-after attempt that would have pulled them within a field goal late in the game.

Before the game started, ASU had committed just one penalty in two games, a delay-of-game call that cost them five yards.  Graham has been preaching ball control since spring camp, telling his new charges that holding on to the ball and minimizing mistakes will get them where they want to go this year.

As Graham was reminded Saturday, young players often have a rather short attention span.

Against Missouri, the Devils racked up seven penalties that resulted in 54 yards assessed.

The statistics for Saturday’s game show teams pretty evenly matched offensively, although the table tilted just a little toward the Tigers.  Both teams had 18 first downs, with Missouri holding a slight edge in total yards (318-296) and rushing yards (126-113).

Even the quarterback duel was pretty even, with Taylor Kelly starting for ASU against Mizzou’s redshirt freshman, Corbin Berkstresser, who had stepped in for the Tigers’ injured starter.  Berkstresser threw for 198 yards on a 21-for-41 evening, while Taylor completed 14-of-23 for 178 yards.

Probably the biggest advantages for the Tigers were in third-down conversions, where Mizzou was 10-for-22 and ASU just 2-for-12, and time of possession, 34:51 for Missouri and 25:09 for ASU.

Credit the four turnovers for much of that last Missouri edge.

And, while ASU was penalty-prone this game, so was Missouri.  The Tigers were flagged 10 times for 85 yards.

Despite a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns by junior running back Marion Grice, the offense was not the explosive display that had made ASU the seventh-ranked team nationally in scoring.  But the defensive effort helped make up the difference.  The Devils recorded a couple of sacks for 11 yards, while  linebacker Brandon Magee and junior safety Alden Darby each accounted for 12 tackles; Magee also picked off his second interception of the season.

In the end, it came down to the final three feet of real estate, when a 17-yard pass completion to Jamal Miles put ASU on the Mizzou one-yard line with just minutes left in the game, but the Devils couldn’t punch it in and turned the ball over on downs.  On the final possession, Kelly threw an interception in the end zone to end any comeback hopes.

“After looking at film,” Graham pointed out, “the biggest thing that was concerning to me was just how poorly we played and the mistakes we made on special teams.  With all of that said, we come down to a foot from winning the game – and we have to be able to make a foot when we get down there.

“But we put all that behind us; that’s pre-season… We have Utah coming in here, one of the best-coached teams in the Pac-12.”

Saturday’s game will be played on Parent’s Weekend in Tempe and will open conference play for both teams.  The Utes bring an identical 2-1 record into Sun Devil Stadium.

These two teams used to play each other on a regular basis when both were members of the Western Athletic Conference.  They’ve played each other 23 times, with ASU holding a 16-7 advantage – 13 of those wins coming in Tempe.

The Sun Devils gave their old friends a rude introduction to the Pac-12 last season when they beat Utah, 35-14, in the Utes’ first season as a new member of the conference.  That gave the Devils eight wins in a row against their Utah rival, including the last six in Tempe.

And Graham feels his new squad is ready to make it seven in a row:

“”We have to correct the mistakes we made last week, but our guys know that they have to start counting this week.  Our goal and our focus is conference play and winning championships…

…and it starts this week.”

(Photo: ASU Athletics)