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The opponent’s view: ASU football not just happy with Pac-12 South title

Here is a story from our Gannett partner in Phoenix, The Arizona Republic, on the Territorial Cup matchup between Arizona and Arizona State. For more Sun Devils coverage, go to the newspaper’s ASU page.

ASU defensive tackle Will Sutton celebrates a sack vs. UCLA last Saturday. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

ASU defensive tackle Will Sutton celebrates a sack vs. UCLA last Saturday. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

By Doug Haller
azcentral sports

Less than 12 hours after securing a berth in the Pac-12 Championship game, Todd Graham led a few assistants through the third-floor Arizona State football offices to a place where the Sun Devils’ season goals are listed.

The second-year ASU coach read them aloud. Building character. One-hundred percent graduation. National champions. Rose Bowl champions. Pac-12 champions.

“It doesn’t say anything about winning the Pac-12 South,” Graham recalled telling his staff.

His point: Clinching the South division against UCLA on Saturday was great, a significant achievement for an under-achieving program. But there’s work to be done, starting with Saturday’s Territorial Cup showdown at Sun Devil Stadium against rival Arizona.

“This week here is so vital, obviously, because it’s our rival game,” Graham said. “It’s the game every year. But there’s an added significance.”

And it’s big. If ASU — in this week’s BCS standings — defeats Arizona, the Sun Devils (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) will host the Dec. 7 Pac-12 Championship Game against Stanford at Sun Devil Stadium. The home team has won the past two championship games. This season, the Sun Devils are 6-0 at home, outscoring opponents by nearly 27 points a contest.

“It’s obviously a must-win game for us,” Graham said.

The coach said he gave himself the plane ride home from Los Angeles to enjoy Saturday’s win over UCLA. One player he couldn’t keep out of his mind: Will Sutton.

After last season, Graham and his staff pushed the All-American defensive tackle to become more of a leader. At Pac-12 media day in July, Sutton said doing so would be a challenge simply because he’s always preferred to lead through actions rather than words.

On Saturday, however, Sutton showed far he has come. At halftime, before the team retreats to the locker room, Graham always huddles with the Sun Devils on the field. This time, before the coach had a chance to say anything, Sutton waved him off. He took control, talking to the team while Graham stood off to the side.

“On game day, he’s always been the most-fierce competitor I’ve ever been around,” Graham said. “But he always took care of what he had to do to play at a very high level. Now he understands the power he has to inspire others. … I don’t think I’ve ever had a player lead like that in a ballgame.”

Graham knows this week won’t be easy. Arizona, which improved to 7-4 and 4-4 after Saturday’s upset of Oregon, is playing its best football, he said.

*Running back Ka’Deem Carey: “Best running back in the country,” he said.

*Quarterback B.J. Denker: “Tremendous in their scheme.”

*The Wildcats’ defense: “Much improved.”

“Our fans made it clear to me when I came that this is the single most-important game on the schedule,” Graham said. “The importance of this far outweighs anything else going on, but that extra deal (regarding home-field advantage) makes it even more significant. We’re focused.”


Graham didn’t have much of an update on senior running back Marion Grice, who suffered a lower-leg injury against UCLA. Grice left the Rose Bowl on crutches.
“I don’t know,” Graham said. “It will probably be a day-to-day deal. We’re going to rest him this week, obviously, and just see how it goes.”

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