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Monday, January 30, 2012
ASU coach has three No. 1 priorities

By Kevin Gemmell

Todd Graham's first few weeks on the job at Arizona State have been about fences:
Graham, in essence, has three No. 1 priorities. In the immediate future, his first No. 1 priority has been building a fence around Phoenix to keep the region's top talent at home, then venturing out into the rest of the state before dipping the fiery pitchfork into California, Texas and somewhat into Florida.

"There are 4.5 million people in Phoenix and one major university," Graham said. "There is no setting like that in the nation. We want to get the best and brightest Phoenix has to offer. We have to get out in the community, show them what we're all about and put a product on the field, in the classroom and in the community they can be proud of. You have to send a message and then actually deliver on that message."

Todd Graham
New ASU coach Todd Graham said his team has responded well to his direction this spring.
But one cannot sustain in the Pac-12 on Arizona alone. He knows that after planting his flag in the desert, hitting the Golden State -- among others -- is key. Last week, Graham was in Seattle, Atlanta, Tampa, Lafayette, New Orleans, Houston, California and then back to Arizona.

"If Phoenix and Arizona are priority No. 1, California has to be priority No. 2," Graham said. "Los Angeles, Northern California and the rest of Southern California. We have to be successful there, no doubt. But we want to win Phoenix first, then Arizona. We can't ignore our base."

And so far, he hasn't. He picked up a big commitment last week with Scottsdale, Ariz., running back D.J. Foster.

On to the second No. 1 priority. Once the fences are up -- and it will take more than a few weeks and a couple of commits, mind you -- it's on to mending the fences and getting Phoenix excited again about its college football team. After a season that started off so promising, followed by a second-half meltdown, the firing of Dennis Erickson, a bowl-game debacle against Boise State and the exodus of quarterback Brock Osweiler, there are lots of pieces that need to be picked up before next season.

"Results," Graham said. "I think you show them in results. That's getting out there and competing."

And that's what was lacking -- results -- at least in the second half of last season. After opening the year winning five of their first six -- which included signature victories over No. 21 Missouri and No. 23 USC -- the Sun Devils collapsed down the stretch. They dropped five straight to close the year -- including a 56-24 thrashing by Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Restoring confidence won't be easy. But so far, Graham is saying all of the things a new head coach should say.

"I'm not going to recruit the guys to the scheme and then win. We're going to win with the guys we have," he said.

Which leads us to his third No. 1 priority: defense. In order to win with the players they have, the Sun Devils will have to figure out how to keep the other team out of the end zone. ASU ranked in the bottom half of the country (74th) in points allowed last year and 91st in total defense.

"This is probably the most difficult conference in the country to play defense in," Graham said. "You have explosive offenses everywhere you look. The key to winning the championship in this conference is playing championship defense. The biggest challenge is defending week in and week out these very prolific and very high-powered offenses."

Despite zero all-conference players on the defensive line, Graham said that's where he likes his team's depth. He plans to play multiple fronts and said they will be very aggressive. His Pittsburgh squad last year was third in the nation in sacks with more than three per game.

"We're solid inside," Graham said. "We have a lot of depth out at defensive tackles and three technique and nose shade. We'll stand one of those ends up, sometimes they'll put their hand down and sometimes it's preference. We'll be very multiple in what we're doing, but we'll be attack-oriented. We're not going to sit and defend, we're going to get after it."