(Photo: Tyler Strachan/WCSN)
The Arizona State football team squandered away its chances of making an appearance in the inaugural College Football Playoff with a crushing loss to Oregon State on Saturday.
In the process of doing so, the team sustained a myriad of injuries to key players on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Each of those injured players were addressed by head coach Todd Graham at the conclusion of Tuesday’s practice.
Injury update on Jaelen Strong, Jordan Simone, Laiu Moeakiola and rest-of-the-season outlook for Jaxon Hood
Wide receiver Jaelen Strong, a nominee for the Biletnikoff Award, sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter of last week’s matchup in Corvallis. On Tuesday, he wore a green, no-contact jersey and did not participate in first-team offensive walkthroughs.
In the post-practice interview session, Graham addressed Strong’s outlook for Saturday’s game.
“Obviously we’re being very cautious,” Graham said. “He has improved dramatically, (and) doing well. But I should know more tomorrow where we’re at on that. Probably 50-50 is what I’d say. He wants to play, but he’s got to be able to go through the protocol that we always go by.”
Though Graham said that Strong’s concussion is “probably a light one,” the medical staff will obviously not take any chances with the future first-round draft pick. If Strong is unable to suit up, Cameron Smith’s role would grow and Ellis Jefferson would be the leading candidate to assume Strong’s spot as the “X” receiver.
On the defensive side of the ball, Jordan Simone and Laiu Moeakiola both sustained undisclosed injuries and both missed noticeable time during the later stages of last week’s game. Both, however, were full participants at Tuesday’s practice.
Graham addressed the health of Simone first:
“He better be [fine]. He got just a little stinger. I think it’s kind of lingering from the week before,” Graham said.
He then encompassed both players’ prospects for Saturday into a concise statement:
“They practiced today so they should be okay,” Graham said.
As for nose tackle Jaxon Hood, who has not played in ASU’s last two games and has not attended practice in the last two-plus weeks, Graham said he is unlikely to return again this season.
Graham and Norvell shifting focus towards Washington
But before Graham diverted his focus to this week’s opponent, he deemed it necessary to clear the air regarding his recent apology for his sideline behavior against Oregon State.
“I’m pretty passionate all the time,” Graham said. “What I apologized to them about is getting frustrated. For whatever reason, I didn’t have them… We came out very sluggish, making mistakes we hadn’t made in eight weeks.”
Graham said that his frustration could have been a contributing factor to the team’s level of motivation.
“I think it’s important that you take responsibility and that’s what talked to them about. I felt like I got frustrated, and if I wouldn’t have gotten frustrated then maybe I could’ve done a better job in motivating them.”
Graham believes that it’s his obligation to acknowledge his mistakes.
“I always take responsibility. That’s what you do. It’s my responsibility to coach them. I’m 100 percent accountable for everything they do, 24/7. Very few people probably have that philosophy. [But] you know why I have that philosophy? Because I’m going to be held accountable for it anyway, I might as well take responsibility for it,” Graham said.
This week of practices presents Graham with an ideal opportunity to make amends, and he has begun to turn the page and started his preparation for Washington State’s pass-happy offense.
“They do a great job of throwing the ball over the top. They just dink you, dink you, dink you and then you start getting impatient,” Graham said. “It’s tough to get pressure on the quarterback because they get the ball out so quick, but you have to get pressure on the quarterback, you have to disrupt things. It’s just different. We haven’t played anybody that’s a pass first team like they are… It is a challenge.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell then flipped the switch and offered his initial impressions on Washington State’s defense.
“They’re an attack defense,” Norvell said. “You watch as the season’s gone on, they’re going to pressure, they’re going to give a variety of different looks, they play hard. I know they start some younger guys in the back end and in the secondary, but the guys up front they really fly around to the football. They’re going to try and create negatives off of bringing pressure.”
As a collective group, Washington State’s offense averages 33.8 points per game (37th in the country), 477.6 pass yards per game (1st) and 43.6 rush yards per game (127th). Its defense gives up 38 points per game (118th), allows 146.2 rushing yards per game (outside top 125) and 307.8 passing yards per game (44th).
First-Team Base Defense
Linebackers: Antonio Longino (WILL), Salamo Fiso (SAM), Laiu Moeakiola (SPUR)
Cornerbacks: Kweishi Brown (Boundary), Lloyd Carrington (Field)
Safeties: Jordan Simone (Bandit), Damarious Randall (Field)