TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State might have liked to have had a week off amid its tough early season stretch, but as things have turned out the Sun Devils’ bye week might have come at just the right time.
With a handful of contributors battling injuries, ASU has time to heal before playing Washington State on the road Thursday, Oct. 31, but that doesn’t mean the Sun Devils are taking the extra time to kick back.
“We’re not approaching it like a bye week,” ASU coach Todd Graham said Tuesday. “We really challenged our guys not to lose our momentum by taking the approach that this is an off week.”
ASU is coming off its most complete performance of the season, a 53-24 win over No. 20 Washington. Graham doesn’t want to see his players lose any of the focus they had in that dominant performance.
In the first of three bye-week practices Tuesday, ASU did not work in pads and went shorter than usual, as it will all week while coaches use the extra time to recruit. Despite the reduced load, Graham believes his team will handle the down time well.
“This week’s big for our preparation,” Graham said. “Our guys are showing the maturity that they can handle this and stay sharp and full speed mentally.”
The week is just as big for a few banged up players.
Wide receiver Jaelen Strong is ASU’s biggest injury concern. The sophomore rolled his ankle during the game against Washington, was unable to go most of the second half and wore a walking boot after the game.
Strong’s injury is not believed to be serious, but he was limited to sideline conditioning and some jogging Tuesday. His status for Washington State is unknown.
Wide receiver Richard Smith missed the Washington game after being injured in practice last week, thinning ASU’s depth at the position. Smith, whose injury has not been specified, did not practice Tuesday. Running back D.J. Foster also did not practice and appeared to be nursing an injury.
“I’m not one of those coaches who sits around and talks about ‘Oh, we’re so sore, we’re so this, so that,'” Graham said. “I hate that way of thinking. So is everybody else.”
Getting a few players healthy should have ASU more prepared for its second true road game of the season, but so will the extra practice time.
“We’ve got one focus, and that’s Washington State and going on the road and getting a win,” Graham said. “We know that’s not going to be easy, so we need to have great preparation this week.”
PRAISE FOR NORVELL
Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell has ASU’s offense humming in his second season, as the Sun Devils currently rank sixth nationally with 45.4 point per game. That total is just shy of the ASU record for scoring (46.8) set in 1972.
“I’ve told you, we’ve got the best guy I’ve ever worked with running it,” Graham said of the offense after it eclipsed 50 points for the fourth time this season against Washington.
There are still times when Norvell’s play calling comes under scrutiny, particularly if it’s a trick play. ASU tried a couple against Washington. One went for a loss of four yards and the other resulted in an interception.
Graham was asked Tuesday how he evaluates the risk and reward of trick plays. He deferred to Norvell before again praising the 32-year-old coach.
“He’s the best I’ve ever been around, so I give him the latitude to do whatever he wants to do,” Graham said. “I tell him that I want him to be innovative. We want to be sound fundamentally first and then innovative second. We’ve just got to maintain that balance.
“I don’t have any complaints. Fifty-three points is pretty good.”
ASU had not scored 50 or more points in four games in a season since 1973.
— Graham on ASU not making the AP Top 25 poll or the first BCS standings of the year: “I’m worried about one ranking, and that’s the end. If I analyzed every rule change and every ranking and all that stuff, it would drive me crazy.”
— Freshman safety Marcus Ball shed the green no-contact jersey Tuesday for the first time since injuring his shoulder Aug. 17. Graham said he’s not sure if Ball, who will get a look at spur linebacker, will be cleared to play against Washington State.
— Defensive tackle Mo Latu returned to practice after missing the past two games and multiple practices for personal reasons.