Todd Graham seeks help from old friend to scout Oregon's offense; Rashad Ross earns Pac-12 honor.
By FOX SPORTS ARIZONAFS Arizona
TEMPE, Ariz. -- In preparation for
Oregon this week, Arizona State coach Graham got on the phone with an old friend, one who by now has seen plenty of the
Ducks recently: Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn.
Malzahn was Graham's offensive coordinator at Tulsa in 2007 and 2008 before he left for the same job at Auburn, where he faced Oregon in the 2010 BCS championship game. Malzahn took over at Arkansas State this season and lost to Oregon in the season opener.
"We spent a little bit of time talking," Graham said Monday. "We actually exchanged film and stuff like that, trying to help each other. ... He said you have to be able to obviously stop the speed."
Graham said he's talked to other friends in college football circles with experience against Oregon, trying to get as much information as possible about how the Ducks play and how to beat them.
"Everybody says the same thing," Graham said. "This is as good an Oregon football team as they've had, I think."
The biggest challenge Oregon presents to most opponents is its speed on both sides of the ball, but particularly on offense. Lesser teams can often keep up for a half or sometimes three quarters but tend to wear down late, allowing Oregon to pull away.
Graham discussed Monday wanting to counteract that speed by controlling the tempo of the game, rather than letting Oregon play its speed and trying to keep up. That's easier said than done, but Graham has a few strategies in mind.
"I think it is important we try to manage our snap count," Graham said. "Our goal this game is not be playing 80-plus snaps on defense. I think in the Arizona game they played 61 plays on defense just in the first half. I think a scenario like that is very difficult."
Graham said he'd like to hold Oregon's offense to under 80 snaps Thursday but also knows that's not something any team has done recently. The key to doing it might be turnovers, of which ASU is averaging two per game.
"Every turnover we get -- in my years of coaching -- you get five less snaps," Graham said. "So get four turnovers, you get 20 less snaps. Keep it under 70, that's the formula to win, and that is obviously easier said than done."
The Devils' conditioning is also likely to play a key role in whether they can keep up with the Ducks for four quarters, and Graham is exceedingly confident in the regimen strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold has implemented.
The Pac-12 on Monday named Arizona State senior Rashad Ross its special-teams player of the week.
Ross, a receiver and return specialist, swung momentum in ASU's favor against Colorado last Thursday with a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown to open the second half. ASU had led just 20-17 at halftime, and Ross' touchdown sparked a 31-0 run.
The touchdown was the Sun Devils' first on special teams this season and first since Ross' 98-yard kickoff return in the Las Vegas Bowl last season. Graham said Friday that Ross is likely to see more action on returns with primary returner Jamal Miles struggling a bit. Miles is without a return touchdown since last Nov. 12 and has a long return of 31 yards this season.
Ross entered the season with high expectations after a strong showing late last season but found himself in the doghouse early in Graham's first fall camp. After an attitude adjustment, Ross impressed in the team's scrimmage at Camp Tontozona and landed a starting receiver spot.
Ross produced little over the first few weeks but finally broke out in ASU's game against Utah, catching a career-high five passes for 87 yards and a touchdown.
The honor for Ross is the second such for ASU this season, as Will Sutton was the Pac-12's defensive player of the week earlier this month.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
-- Senior running back James Morrison was back in an offensive jersey at practice Monday afternoon after spending a few days with the defense. Morrison has been working as a pass-rushing defensive end, but Graham said all along that Morrison would remain a backup at running back.
-- There will be plenty of eyes on ASU's game Thursday, and that includes those of NFL scouts. According to an athletic department spokesman, 11 scouts had been confirmed to attend the game as of Monday afternoon.