(AP)—- Arizona State made a statement in its last game, routing a ranked opponent for arguably its biggest win in two seasons under coach Todd Graham.
The next step for the 25th-ranked Sun Devils is to build upon it, not let the momentum fizzle after a week of savoring the victory.
But to keep rolling, Arizona State will have to do something it has struggled with in the past: Winning on the road, beginning Thursday night against Washington State.
And when it comes to that subject, Graham has heard enough about playing in an unfamiliar environment, in cold weather, having to stay in hotel rooms.
“That’s all excuses,” Graham said Monday during his weekly news conference. “You don’t win on the road because you’re not prepared, you’re not focused and you don’t play well. That’s it.”
The Sun Devils have been solid at home under Graham, going 4-2 last season and 5-0 this season.
Arizona State had a few bumps on the road last season, losing to Missouri, Oregon State and Southern California while beating Colorado, California and Arizona.
The Sun Devils haven’t spent much time away from the desert this season but have yet to win, losing 42-28 to then-No. 5 Stanford and 37-34 to Notre Dame in a neutral-site game.
This matchup against Washington State (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12) kicks off a big stretch for Arizona State (5-2, 3-1).
The Sun Devils’ last game was a 53-24 rout of then-No. 20 Washington on Oct. 19, a victory that moved them back into the rankings and in control of the Pac-12 race. After playing in Pullman, Arizona State still has games at Utah and UCLA, ones that could go a long way toward helping the Sun Devils reach their main goal of winning the Pac-12 championship.
“If you want to be a champion and that’s what we say we want to be, that’s what we talk about that we want to win a championship, no excuses,” Graham said. “You go, rain, sleet, snow, Alaska, Maine, it doesn’t matter - you’ve got to go win. That’s the mindset.”
Cold weather has been one of the perceived problems for Arizona State on the road.
The Sun Devils have to deal with heat early in the season, which ends up being to their advantage, but play most of their games in weather that’s often more like spring than fall or winter.
And since Arizona State hasn’t had many late-season road wins against teams in the Pacific Northwest in recent years - the last one was over Washington in 2008 - there’s an impression that the Sun Devils don’t like playing in the cold.
The high in Pullman on Thursday is supposed to be around 50 with temperatures dropping into the 30s overnight - not that Graham wants to hear about it.
“If one of my coaches says something about the weather, I’ll tell him to go get a meteorologist’s job,” Graham said. “It’s part of it.”
Graham has done his best to make the Sun Devils feel comfortable on the road, bringing the air fresheners and photos from Sun Devil Stadium to put in the visitor’s locker room and taking his players through the stadium the day before so they’ll know what it’s like.
He did alter his bye-week schedule last week, though.
The Sun Devils played one of the toughest stretches that any team in the country will face this season and have several players banged up after facing big, physical teams like Wisconsin, Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington in a little over a month.
To give his players a chance to recover, Graham allowed them to practice without pads for the entire week.
It was a bit of a gamble, one Graham hopes will not have the opposite effect of what he was going for.
“I’ve never done what I did this past week, taking the pads off the entire week to try to heal them up,” Graham said. “I think it was smart, but are we mentally mature enough to handle that? We’ll see.”
Coach Mike Leach’s Washington State team is also coming off a bye and will be facing a ranked opponent for the second straight time after losing 62-38 at No. 2 Oregon on Oct. 19. The Cougars have dropped three of four, allowing an average of 56.3 points in those defeats.
They almost hit that mark last season in a 46-7 loss at Arizona State, which has won eight of nine in the series while averaging 35.0 points and holding Washington State to 16.0 per game.