PULLMAN, Wash. — Does Arizona State struggle away from Sun Devil Stadium?
At a recent practice, senior defensive tackle Will Sutton shook off the question.
“No, we just got to go out there and play. We’re not worried about it,” Sutton said, spotting teammate Alden Darby walking by.
“Huh, Darby, we’re not worried about no road games,” Sutton said.
“Road games?” Darby replied. “Not at all, man.”
Given their recent performance away from Sun Devil Stadium, perhaps they should be. The Sun Devils haven’t been awful on the road, but they haven’t exactly flexed some muscle, either. Entering tonight’s trick-or-treat contest at Washington State, the Sun Devils are 4-5 away from home under second-year coach Todd Graham. This season, they are 0-2, losing at Stanford and to Notre Dame in Texas.
Graham points out that everyone in the country plays better at home, which is true. He also points out that ASU has played two strong road opponents this year, also true. But even going back to last season, the Sun Devils’ body of work in true road games isn’t all that impressive.
In fact, senior left tackle Evan Finkenberg was asked to name ASU’s most recent complete road performance. He couldn’t do it. Same question for senior tight end Chris Coyle:
“Last time we played well on the road,” Coyle began. “Shoot. I’m thinking back. … I’m sorry. I’m thinking pretty hard about this. Who are the teams we played on the road last season?”
ASU last season went 3-3 in true road games, defeating California, Colorado and Arizona and losing to Missouri, Oregon State and USC.
“Arizona was a really good game for us,” Coyle said. “We came out strong and were able to play all the way through the football game. … When we’re at home, we’re continually getting better throughout the game and we’re wearing down the defense. We can’t have these up and downs; that’s what kind of gets us in a lull during some of these games.”
Tonight should be wild. It’s Halloween. National television. To try to take seize the moment, Washington State has canceled classes. The Cougars hope to duplicate their most recent home effort against ASU, a 37-27 victory in 2011, a game that couldn’t be played until snow was cleared from the field.
Last week, Graham sat in a golf cart after practice, listening to players recall that miserable evening, one that ultimately led to the dismissal of coach Dennis Erickson.
Days later in his weekly news conference, Graham was asked about ASU’s road struggles.
The coach unloaded a little. He doesn’t care about the weather forecast (rain, high of 48 degrees), he said. He doesn’t care about ASU’s banged-up receiving corps. He just wants to limit distractions. If it were up to him, Graham said, he would travel about 35 players, only to make things easier.
“I’m telling you, if one of my coaches says something about the weather, I’m going to tell him to go get a meteorologist job,’’ Graham said. “It’s part of it. That’s all it is. If I sit here (and say), ‘Aw, it’s going to be cold,’ or ‘Aw, it’s going to be this,’ that’s all excuses. You (lose) on the road because you’re not prepared and you’re not focused and you don’t play well. That’s it. If you want to be a champion — and that’s what we talk about, winning championships — there are no excuses. You can go play in rain, sleet, snow, Alaska, Maine, it doesn’t matter where it’s at. You go to win.”
At 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12, ASU controls its destiny in the Pac-12 South. But to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Sun Devils will have to show they can clear this hurdle. After Washington State, the Sun Devils visit Utah on Nov.9 and UCLA on Nov.23.
Their mental toughness will be tested.
“The bottom line is we came here to win championships,’’ Graham said. “You can see it. It’s five weeks in a row. All you have to do is win five in a row and you’re playing for the (Pac-12) championship.
“Man, I ain’t got time to be tired. I ain’t got time to be worrying about if it’s going to rain or not. I ain’t got time to worry about if somebody’s sore or if somebody can’t play. Man, let’s go. Let’s run the flag up that pole and charge up the hill.”