(Photo: Allyson Cummings/WCSN)
The Arizona State Sun Devils broke routine a bit on Thursday, electing to move their final practice of the week to the Verde Dickey Dome rather than the traditional Sun Devil Stadium practice two days prior to game day.
One routine remained constant though, as head coach Todd Graham again complimented the team on their showing in practice, but demanded just a little more moving forward.
“I told them last year every day we just rolled our sleeves up and hammered away,” Graham said. “We just strained and pushed, and we got a little bit better every day, then suddenly you look over the next hill and you’re standing on the field at the Rose Bowl and you just won the South.”
“All that work, all that strain, all that sacrifice, but what was on their face was gratification. That was special. That’s why it requires you every single day to be fanatical about your improvement.”
The Sun Devils will travel to face the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday, another match-up against a large underdog. While Graham’s fanatical improvement might not be necessary for now, he continued to stress that his goal goes beyond winning this weekend.
“We’ve got to get guys up for 15 games,” Graham said. “Twelve regular season games, and hopefully two championship games.”
After a highly successful freshman campaign that earned Zane Gonzalez First Team All-Pac-12 honors, the sophomore kicker started his 2014 season with a successful 33-yard field goal and six successful extra point tries.
“Zane’s the man. He’s just so calm, cool and collected,” Graham said. “I like his demeanor. Nobody’s taking his confidence and I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. I think he’s the best kicker I’ve ever had.”
One of 20 semifinalists for the 2013 Lou Groza Award, recognizing the nation’s best kicker, Gonzalez was placed on the preseason watch list in 2014.
While he’ll have his work cut out for him to beat out Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo, who set the record for points in a season by a kicker in 2013, Gonzalez will likely receive plenty of opportunities via the ASU offense to rack up tries.
“You know why I like him? He’s not a power leg guy,” Graham said. “He’s just extremely accurate.”
All week the team has skipped the 11-on-11 portion of the media session to instead work on special teams and Thursday was no different. That left the defensive walkthrough as the only glimpse at the lineup changes on the way for Saturday. The defensive starting lineup remained as it was on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Armand Perry and James Johnson again in the starting lineup:
Defensive Line: Marcus Hardison (End), Jaxon Hood (Nose), Tashon Smallwood (Tiger), Edmond Boateng (Devilbacker)
Linebackers: Laiu Moeakiola (Spur), Salamo Fiso (Sam), DJ Calhoun (Will)
Cornerbacks: Armand Perry (BC), Lloyd Carrington (FC)
Safeties: James Johnson (BS), Damarious Randall (FS)
– Marcus Ball (now wearing No. 6 in practice) has spent the week working at Spur linebacker behind Laiu Moeakiola. After practice, Graham said he thinks Spur will be a “really, really good position” for Ball and said that Moeakiola could see time at Bandit safety, which offers the team some flexibility.
– While Carlos Mendoza remains the only player in a green no-contact jersey, defensive tackle Corey Smith was out of pads on Thursday and did not participate in any drills, despite wearing a white jersey.
– Earlier in the week, Todd Graham said he was “raising nine kinds of cane” at one point during the team’s opener against Weber State. Well, he was raising at least seven kinds of cane during the defensive walkthrough, as he was clearly frustrated at times with the defensive line’s work to prepare for the triple option of New Mexico.
– Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard seem to have a solid grasp on the kick return job and took the majority of the reps at the position. The veteran pair of Kyle Middlebrooks and Deantre Lewis spelled them, but received significantly fewer reps than the freshmen duo.
– After both practiced with the first-team defense all week, Graham said that cornerback Armand Perry and safety James Johnson will each make their first career starts on Saturday.
Adam Stites is a WCSN football reporter, you can reach him on twitter at @AdamStitesASU or by email at AdamStitesBCC@yahoo.com