Graham praises crowd, offensive leaders following key win
Coming off of a weekend where his Arizona State football team defeated a ranked opponent for the first time since 2015, head coach Todd Graham was considerably positive in his Monday press conference.
While he had many different aspects to praise from Saturday’s 37-35 defeat of Oregon, his first order of business was to thank the Sun Devil faithful.
“I just wanted to start off today just saying how awesome it was, our crowd,” he said. “That was a tremendous atmosphere the other night, and I’m just really grateful for our fans that cheered the entire time. Really appreciate that it created an unbelievable atmosphere.”
According to Graham, an “electrifying” sideline was the result of such an intense energy from the stands, which he also credited as a key factor in his team’s 27-9 home record during his time at ASU.
“That was awesome,” he said. “The fans had a lot to do with that. I think that has a heck of a lot to do with our crowd and how they were into the game.”
The fans, of course, had more to cheer about in Saturday’s contest than they have at any other point this season. The Sun Devils played their all-around best game, showing improvements on all sides of the ball, with no major miscues outside of a muffed punt.
While ASU certainly wasn’t perfect against the Ducks by any means, their performance was far better than the previous three, of which they won just once.
Most notably, the offense came to play from the get-go, amassing 489 total yards — 347 of which came through the air on an impressive night for Manny Wilkins — while possessing the ball for 63 percent of the night.
Monday, Graham praised Wilkins in particular for his continued growth as a player and leader.
“I think he’s matured a great deal,” Graham said. “He’s taking what the defense is giving him and really relying on his intellect as a quarterback and on his system to work instead of just athleticism. You can tell he’s a veteran quarterback and he’s playing well. Very proud of him.”
Graham also made a point of praising the way Wilkins has spread the ball throughout the array of receivers on ASU’s offensive unit. On Saturday, Wilkins connected on passes to seven different targets, while on the season, he’s been able to find five different receivers for over 100 yards.
Leading the way, of course, has been sophomore N’Keal Harry, who Wilkins linked up with seven times on Saturday for 170 yards. Harry’s 436 yards this season lead the team, as he averages over 100 yards per game.
Graham was particularly high on Harry’s play so far in his Monday remarks, comparing the rising star to a recent NFL product out of ASU.
"A lot of similarities between him and Jaelen Strong,” he said. “I think he's only scratching the surface on how good he can be. When I saw him practice, and how hard he practices, I knew he had the potential to be really, really good.”
Going into this week with a team whose prospects look significantly brighter following an impressive win, Graham knows he’ll be facing another challenge on the road at Stanford.
And against a team that he referred to as the “best-coached”, he’s faced at ASU, the Sun Devils will definitely need to carry over their strong start to Pac-12 play.
“In our team meeting yesterday, we said, ‘Alright, that’s the end of that, let’s move forward,’” Graham said. “You can’t look behind you, it’s going to be a battle every week, so we’ve got to go put together and play our best football game.”