Arizona State on rise from mediocrity

Published: Thursday, Sept. 20 2012 7:25 p.m. MDT

TEMPE, Ariz. — When Todd Graham bolted Pittsburgh after one season to become the head coach at Arizona State, he didn't exactly have to start over. Far from it, as a matter of fact.

"When coach Graham got there the cupboard was full," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "They've got speed. They've got athleticism. They've got size on both sides of the line."

Under Graham, who was hired in December to replace the fired Dennis Erickson, the Sun Devils are off to a 2-1 start. They opened his tenure with a 63-6 win over Northern Arizona and followed it up with a 45-14 victory over Illinois.

Whittingham noted that ASU could very well be 3-0. Four turnovers and missed opportunities, however, led to a 24-20 setback at Missouri last week.

"(Graham is) doing a nice job taking that talent and putting it within the framework of his schemes," Whittingham said as the Utes prepared to face the Sun Devils in Saturday's Pac-12-opener for both teams.

ASU, he continued, is a quality team that does a lot of things well.

"Offensively, they've got a great scheme that gets the ball to their skill players in space," Whittingham said, while noting that quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank are very accurate and skilled. "They force you to make several open-field tackles."

Tight end Chris Coyle is ASU's leading receiver with 17 catches for 239 yards, while Marion Grice is the top rusher, averaging 49.7 yards per game.

Defensively, the Sun Devils favor a high-pressure attack. They've already racked up 29 tackles-for-loss, 19 pass deflections, 12 pass breakups, 10 sacks and seven interceptions. Safety Chris Young and defensive tackle Will Sutton are the leading tacklers with 24 and 22 stops, respectively.

After going 31-31 in five seasons under Erickson, ASU is determined to rise above mediocrity.

"Our goal and focus is conference play and winning championships," Graham said. "And it starts this week."

EXTRA POINTS: Utah defeated Graham and Pittsburgh 26-14 last season at Heinz Field. ... ASU leads the all-time series with Utah 17-6 after last season's 35-14 victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes are just 3-12 at ASU. ... Whittingham's first career head coaching victory came at Sun Devil Stadium, as co-coach with Urban Meyer in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.

Pac-12 opener

Utah (2-1)

at Arizona State (2-1)

Saturday, 8 p.m. (MDT)

Sun Devil Stadium: Tempe, Ariz.

TV: Pac-12 Networks (Comcast 37, 757), Dish Network (413).

Radio: ESPN 700, Sirius (132), XM (190).Pac-12 opener

Utah (2-1) at Arizona State (2-1)

Saturday, 8 p.m. (MDT)

Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

TV: Pac-12 networks (Comcast 37, 757), Dish Network (413)

Radio: ESPN 700, Sirius (132), XM (190)

email: dirk@desnews.com

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