(Photo: ASU Athletics)
The No. 11 Arizona State football team opened its week of practices on Tuesday in preparation for what is shaping up to be the most anticipated game of the season.
Granted, the Sun Devils contest is a break from the grind of conference play, and thus will not have any bearing on whether or not ASU appears in the Pac-12 Championship for a second straight year. Yet at the same time, Notre Dame football is always guaranteed to generate publicity and anticipation. To add to the narrative, both teams only have one loss and are in the thick of the race for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.
Though the buzz surrounding the Saturday afternoon affair with the Fighting Irish rightfully dominated the conversation of Tuesday’s practice, two stories within the ASU football team lead the practice report, due to the long-term and serious nature of their ramifications.
Update on DE Demetrius Cherry and LG Christian Westerman
The first, and perhaps the more serious of the two stories, is an update on defensive end Demetrius Cherry.
Cherry was suspended for last week’s match against Utah due to what was deemed a “violation of team policy.” Minutes before kickoff, ASUDevils.com tweeted that Cherry had been arrested for driving under the influence. AZCentral’s Doug Haller echoed that sentiment earlier Tuesday morning.
Despite the reports, Cherry was a full participant at Tuesday’s practice. Head coach Todd Graham, however, did not comment on any details regarding his availability for Saturday. When asked if Cherry would suit up against Notre Dame, Graham said, “I don’t know yet. We’ll see. Obviously part of our program is accountability. He was pretty upset not being able to play last week but he understands it. Got to meet our standards.”
If Cherry were to be held out, Edmond Boateng would make his second consecutive start at defensive end.
Starting left guard Christian Westerman also missed last week’s game with a knee injury, and sported a green no-contact jersey during Tuesday’s practice.
Though Graham rarely engages in individual work with the offensive line—that duty falls upon Chris Thomsen—Graham did provide a statement on the status of Westerman:
“I know he’s running full speed straight away, (and) tried to do some change of direction with him,” Graham said. “He’s got a good chance. He’s got to practice tomorrow or Thursday the full practice and (we’ll) see where we’re at. I think we’ve got a chance for him to play, if not full-time, limited.”
Westerman’s backup remains Stephon McCray, who was commended by offensive coordinator Mike Norvell for battling against the nation’s top sack defense in his first career start.
Preparing for Notre Dame
As was noted in the series history article, the ASU-Notre Dame contest of 2013 was ultimately decided by three costly turnovers from the Sun Devil offense.
Though Notre Dame will be without the services of leading-tackler and senior linebacker Joe Schmidt, its 12 interceptions this year trail the 2013 total by only one. This makes it safe to assume that this year’s Irish defense is even more opportunistic than last year’s.
“It shows that they’ve got guys with tremendous ball skills. They like to play the football, keeping eyes on the quarterback, seeing the ball out of his hands,” Norvell said. “But also, the front seven ties into that as well. If you’re able to get pressure on the quarterback, ball comes out a little early, that gives the others and opportunity to make plays on it.”
Due to a mix of rust from Taylor Kelly after being out for six weeks and the fact that ASU has faced off against three straight extremely stout defenses, the offense has noticeably sputtered.
The root of the issue has not been turnovers as it was in the 2013 contest against Notre Dame, but rather a shortcoming that is equally as despised from the Sun Devil coaching staff.
“What hurt us the other night, we would have scored 21 more points if we wouldn’t have gotten penalties,” Graham said. “That’s completely out of our character, but it happened. That’s what I’m concerned about. That cannot happen; we cannot do that.”
Norvell echoed Graham’s statements and said the team needs to be more disciplined.
“The thing that’s probably been the most disappointing have been the little details,” Norvell said. “Last week, having five penalties on offense absolutely killed us…When you do that to yourself, you’re going to have a hard time scoring points, you’re going to have a hard time being successful. That’s the thing we challenged our guys with: it’s about the details, it’s about getting better, the discipline of what we’re doing. There were a lot of positives, but that’s something we definitely have to get corrected.”
Graham affirmed that the final two days of this week’s series of practices will be devoted to the offense hammering home fundamentally-sound execution that is void of both costly turnovers and penalties.
First-Team Base Defense (featured no defensive line for efficiency purposes)
Linebackers: Antonio Longino (WILL), Salamo Fiso (SAM), Laiu Moeakiola (SPUR)
Cornerbacks: Kweishi Brown (Boundary), Lloyd Carrington (Field)
Safeties: Jordan Simone (Bandit), Damarious Randall (Field)
- Graham spoke on the development of his cornerbacks, a group with which he works extensively, and said, “I’m really confident in their fundamentals—did a great job stemming their coverage. They know who they are, they know what their best moves are, best techniques are. They know how to present and get in and out of the coverages. (They’re) playing really well.”
- This cornerback group will be presented with a tough test come Saturday, as Graham spoke highly of Notre Dame’s receiving corps, calling it comparable to USC’s and one of the best his team will play.
- In regards to the loss of Joe Schmidt for the Irish, Graham stated, “He’s a heck of a player. You watch him on film, he’s the quarterback of that bunch… Obviously any time you lose a player of that magnitude, especially one that smart and that solid in what he does, can’t help you any. But they’ve got a lot of depth. They’re the best personnel-wise that they’ve been.”
- Graham also added that he gave the Camp Fargo members a 9 a.m. wakeup call as he drove by on his way to practice. He affirmed that their Sun Devil pride will be rewarded in the form of pizza delivery from his players.
- Scouts from the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons were in attendance at Tuesday’s practice