Turnovers spoil Arizona State coach’s return to Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas – Todd Graham, like any good product of Texas football, knows you just can’t do the things his Arizona State squad did Saturday night against Notre Dame and expect to win.

Graham played high school football at North Mesquite and coached at Allen, high schools not far from mammoth AT&T Stadium where Arizona State fell short against the Irish, 37-34.

Graham worked as a security guard as a teenager at Texas Stadium, the predecessor to Jerry Jones’ palace in Arlington. He also coached a season at Rice before moving on to Tulsa and Pittsburgh and eventually landing in Tempe.

So Graham knows you can’t settle for field goals and expect to win. You can’t give up six sacks and not get any yourself.

And most of all, you can’t commit three turnovers.

Arizona State did all those things, which is why a drained Graham, with a voice hoarse from too much sideline shouting, could only tip his cap to Notre Dame.

“It was difficult to swallow, turning the football over that many times,” Graham said. “That was the difference in the game.”

Arizona State forced one turnover, a pick-six by cornerback Osahon Irabor at the start of the fourth quarter.

That helped Arizona State draw within 24-20 of the Irish, but the Sun Devils returned the favor late. A furious Arizona State rally was scuttled by a 14-yard pick-six by Notre Dame’s Dan Fox with 1:08 left.

Arizona State regrouped and scored with 11 seconds left to make it a three-point game, which only made the previous interception more frustrating.

“You put two teams like that out there playing in that kind of environment, it’s the team that makes the least amount of mistakes that wins,” Graham said.

Arizona State was the loser Saturday night, but it could be a victory for the Sun Devils come February. After all, this wasn’t a trip just so Graham could get some good Texas barbecue and local Tex-Mex.

This was a chance for Arizona State to get exposure in Texas, where the recruiting grounds are bursting with talent.

Arizona State had not played a regular season game in Texas since 1982. Graham, with his Texas roots, knows how important it can be for the Sun Devils to tap into the Texas talent base.

Notre Dame knows it, too. Cam McDaniel, from just up the road in Coppell, was the leading rusher for the Fighting Irish with 15 carries for 82 yards.

“I think I had about 30 people that ended up coming, and then a lot of my friends and family came without me getting [them] tickets,” McDaniel said. “I don’t know how many people came, but I’ve got a lot of text messages from people that said they were there. It’s just awesome to see the support.”

Of course, the greatest Texan-turned-Irish is Tim Brown, who came out of Dallas’ Woodrow Wilson High to win a Heisman at Notre Dame. Brown received a loud ovation when he was shown on the colossal video board during the game.

Not only did a raucous crowd of 66,960 witness the game in person, the game was televised nationally by NBC, aka the Notre Dame Network. The Irish may have controlled the broadcast rights, but a lot of high school recruits watching may suddenly have an interest in Arizona State as well.

Of course, Arizona State could have created much more buzz if it could have pulled off a win. Unlike Notre Dame (4-2), Arizona State was ranked in the Top 25 and favored to win by 5½ points.

As much as Graham anguished over the loss and the turnovers, he also regretted not being able to thump Notre Dame in his home state, a state that produces players that can take Arizona State to another level.

“I told our guys after the game that we had a great opportunity,” Graham said. “This was an opportunity for us to win on a national stage, and to come in and to turn the ball over three times was the difference in the game. That’s about how simple it was.”

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire