While much has changed in the Todd Graham era, one thing has stayed the same: ASU’s struggles away from Sun Devil Stadium.
The Devils have held a strong home field advantage with a 9-2 record under Graham’s watch, while sputtering on the road to the tune of a 4-5 mark (two of those wins being in Tucson and the bowl game). Both defeats this season against Stanford and Notre Dame came on the road in games where the team struggled early to find a rhythm and could not make the same game-changing plays it had at home. Ultimately digging too deep a hole to crawl out of, despite frantic rallies near the end.
To achieve its goal of winning the Pac-12′s South Division and playing for a conference championship, the Devils must be able to win in hostile environments. Hostility will come in the form of the elements Halloween night as ASU kicks off a stretch of three road games in four weeks against a scrappy Washington State squad in Pullman, where it is expected to be 35 degrees at kickoff.
“You go, rain, sleet, snow, Alaska, Maine, it doesn’t matter where it’s at,” Graham said. “You have to go win. That’s the mindset.”
Another mindset, especially in the cold, should be running the football, something ASU did extremely well in their last game against Washington in the form of 314 yards on the ground, but has gone away from in their losses.
“Missed opportunities,” Graham explained. “In two games that we’ve come up short in, we haven’t been able to effectively run the football. That’s the key.”
This is nothing new for a program that has struggled to win on the road with any consistency. Under Dennis Erickson, ASU posted a road record of 8-19 in five years, winning just once in three of those seasons. The Devils were not much better with Dirk Koetter at the helm, going just 13-22 in six seasons.
Discipline, in-state recruiting and graduation rate have all greatly improved in Todd Graham’s year and a half at the helm of the Sun Devils. Now, the team’s play on the road must match its performance at home to take the next step from middle-of-the-Pac afterthought to perennial contender.