Sun Devils prepare to honor Tillman against Oregon

TEMPE, Ariz. — On the same day the Sun Devils kick off at home against the Oregon Ducks, Arizona State will kick off Salute to Service 2015, two weeks of events honoring veterans and active members of the military. The celebrations end with the men’s basketball team’s season opener against Sacramento State on Nov. 13.

Before head coach Todd Graham’s press conference Monday, Lt. Gen. Ben Freakley, special advisor to ASU President Michael Crow, spoke about the specially-made Adidas cleats ASU will be wearing against the Ducks to honor the U.S. military and former Sun Devil Pat Tillman.

"These cleats are fascinating. They replicate the boots our men and women are wearing in combat right now," Freakley said. "When you look at the back of them, you see three stripes that don’t represent Adidas but in turn represent the sergeant stripe, which the heart of military is, the sergeants that put themselves in harms way everyday."

Freakley said he expects the players to have a "lump in their throat" when they put on those cleats before the game Thursday.

About the game against the Ducks, Freakley was confident in his prediction of the outcome, similar to his prediction before last year’s Salute to Service when ASU played Notre Dame.

"Last year I predicted we’d beat Notre Dame and I assure you this week we will beat Oregon," he said.


PERSONAL MATTER: Graham expressed his excitement in being able to honor the nation’s military this week. He pointed out the reminders of the sacrifices members of the U.S. military make that are spread all around the team’s facilities, specifically those honoring the 76 former Sun Devil football players who have served. One of those reminders is an American flag made up of two-inch pictures of every Sun Devil football player who has served.

Honoring the military is also a personal matter for Graham.

"I wanted to be a Marine," Graham said. "That’s what I was going to do, and my high school coach said, ‘Son, you’re going to get a scholarship,’ so I wound up playing college football and that probably was a better path for me. I probably wouldn’t have made it very long."

PAC-12 PROBLEMS: Utah appeared prepared to run away with the South division of the Pac-12 before its 42-24 loss to USC on Saturday. That game opened up the door for team’s like USC, UCLA and ASU to potentially steal the South division crown. The Sun Devils are currently two games back of Utah with five games left on the schedule.

The Sun Devils say they will only be concerned about getting better every week, but also know that it doesn’t matter who most people think will win in the Pac-12. In this conference particularly, it’s impossible to predict.

"You stay the same, you’re not going to win. It doesn’t matter how good you are," Graham said. "The team that gets better every week is the one that’s going to be left standing at the end, and in this league it’s never the one everybody expects."

CONTAINING FREEMAN: Graham compared Oregon running back Royce Freeman to UCLA’s Paul Perkins in terms of patience and running style. Freeman is currently seventh in the nation in rushing yards with 997, averaging just over 142 yards per game.

"I think the way they run the ball is very similar to what Arizona does and what UCLA does," Graham said. "And then they have the guys that complement him that have tremendous speed. So they’re not just one-dimensional. They can run it inside, outside, run a lot of misdirection."

ASU held Perkins to 63 yards on the ground and a touchdown in its game against UCLA this season and the Sun Devils have allowed 129.3 rushing yards per game this season. They rank second in the conference in rushing defense behind Utah.

FAST & FURIOUS, TEMPE DRIFT: The pace of ASU’s offense has been talked about all season. Some have asked whether or not it would be better for the offense if they slowed things down a bit.

Graham said he thinks the offense is actually operating at too slow a pace. Quarterback Mike Bercovici agrees.

"I think it can never be fast enough. I think when you start going fast it can go faster," Bercovici said. "That’s just the fun part about being a tempo."

DUCK HUNT: ASU has not played Oregon since the Ducks visiting Tempe in 2012 for a game the Sun Devils dropped 43-21 after a fast start. ASU forced a turnover on Oregon’s second play from scrimmage and went up 7-0.

Things did not go as well for the Sun Devils after that.

Bercovici is one of a handful of players still on the team who were at ASU for that game.

"For the few that are still here, we do remember that game," Bercovici said. "We have a little bitterness in our mouth the last time that they came here and they took care of business against us."