(Photo: Blaine McCormick/WCSN)
Arizona State took the field at Sun Devil Stadium for the second of three intra-squad preseason scrimmages Saturday night, pleasing head coach Todd Graham by avoiding turnovers and penalties, and showing development as a group after another week of practices.
“Eliminate penalties, we did that,” Graham said of his objectives for Saturday’s simulated game. “Take care of the football. Our (first-team) did a great job of that.”
Graham said he could only remember one turnover during the entirety of the scrimmage, an improvement over last week’s Camp Tontozona scrimmage that saw a fumble, a pick-six, and a couple other dropped interceptions. No official stats were made available after this week’s session.
Last season, the Sun Devils’ -4 turnover differential was second worst in the Pac-12. Taking care of the ball could be a key fix if ASU is to return to Pac-12 relevancy; during their double-digit win campaigns in 2013 and 2014, the team finished with one of the conference’s top two turnover margins each year.
“I wanted it to be extremely competitive, eliminate the mental errors,” Graham said. “We’ve made great progress.”
Last week, Graham declared the defense had “won the day” during the 11-on-11 drills in Payson. This week however, both sides of the ball competed well, making for a competitive night.
“I think we got better tonight,” Graham said. “I think we improved dramatically from last week to this week.”
Graham also said that he thought his defensive backfield has seen the most improvement from the start of fall camp to Saturday.
The group, which will likely start a completely new slate of four players this year, has developed despite minor injuries to the likes of junior Dasmond Tautalatasi and freshman Langston Frederick.
Camp contributions from redshirt freshman Chase Lucas, track and field convert Joey Bryant, and sophomore Kobe Williams have brought some stability to the position ravaged by the unexpected summer losses of Armand Perry and Kareem Orr.
Graham also mentioned that his quarterbacks were “live” for the first time this fall, making them fair game for defenders to hit.
“Obviously our guys were not stupid, we didn’t tee off on the quarterback, but it was a much better scrimmage because (they were live),” Graham said.
The sixth-year head coach said both the starters and back-ups played about 60 snaps each. The first-team offense and defense faced each other as well, different than last week when the starters mainly lined up against the back-ups.
Graham did not say how many snaps quarterbacks Manny Wilkins and Blake Barnett played with each unit. The junior Wilkins has seen most of the first team snaps so far this fall in his bid to remain the team’s starting QB.
The group will go through another week of practices before running through a third and final preseason scrimmage next Saturday. With their home opener against New Mexico State less than three weeks away, the 11-on-11 sessions will go a long way in deciding who will get playing time to begin the regular season.
“Huge evaluation,” Graham said of next week’s scrimmage. “Next Saturday will be our last evaluation…Mostly this next week, (backups) against (starters), and really start getting into New Mexico State.”