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ASU Football: Graham address concerns from Northern Arizona with optimism

(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)

Despite struggling to pull away from Northern Arizona for three quarters in Saturday night’s season opener, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham continued to reinforce one simple fact on Monday afternoon: His team is 1-0.

There are still some kinks that need to be worked out, specifically with a pass defense that allowed 369 passing yards and nine plays of 15 or more yards in its first taste of live action, before the Sun Devils host Texas Tech. Last season, the Red Raiders ranked second in the FBS in passing yardage, averaging 388.2 yards per game.

“The key for us is getting better,” Graham said. “I feel like we got better every play and obviously you can look at the stats and I think they [Texas Tech] were the top passing team in the country last year, so, a great quarterback and so it’s an even bigger challenge this week.”

Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 407 yards in the first half alone in the team’s season opener against Stephen F. Austin. He finished the game 30-43 for 483 yards and four touchdowns, also adding two scores with his legs.

“He’s got to be one of the best, if not the best, in the Big 12,” Graham said of Mahomes. “Got to be up there with one of the best because he is a phenomenal player.”

On the other side, ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins went 20-27 for 180 yards and an interception. He led the team in rushing, adding 89 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

For Graham, he felt as though Wilkins accomplished what he had hoped he would both under center and on the sideline in his first game.

“I think for his first game, he learned a lot,” Graham said. “I think he did a solid job, and some of the things that I think that I was the most impressed with him was his poise.”

The communication throughout the game between offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, redshirt freshman Brady White and Wilkins was something that Graham noted as having impressed him.

He only pointed out one miscue, an instance in which he was forced to call a timeout when the kicking team took the field instead of the offense on the team’s lone two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter.

“The way Chip [Lindsey] and him [Wilkins] and Brady communicated is really nice,” Graham said. “We’ve got to get better at every single area and so does everybody else, so I feel really good about where we’re at.”

Starting linebacker Christian Sam went down with a foot injury in Saturday’s game, and although he left the field in a walking boot, Graham expressed optimism when asked if Sam would be available against Texas Tech.

“I’m sure hoping so,” Graham said.

The defense will already be without another starter, Marcus Ball, who will be forced to sit for the first half of Saturday’s game due to a targeting penalty.

However, Graham still remains confident and rooted in the fact that his team is 1-0 after week one, and regardless of injuries or lingering uncertainty, is still in an enviable position.

“There’s half the teams in the country that would like to be 1-0 right now,” Graham said. “I feel really good about where we’re at because I’ll tell you this, I know our guys are going to work their tails off.”

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