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October 30, 2013

Palouse weather of no concern to Graham




Break out the gloves and heavy winter jackets, Arizona State is heading to Pullman, Wash.

Home of the Washington State Cougars, the kickoff temperature should be in the 40s with a 20 percent chance of rain, a stark contrast to the weather in every game ASU has played in to this point in the 2013 season.

With much of ASU's success coming at home in the House of Heat, the cold weather could only increase the challenges ASU has been having on the road.

However, head coach Todd Graham doesn't want to hear about it.

"If we will go and if we will play, we don't have to worry about it being cold; we don't have to worry about it being windy," Graham said.

"It doesn't matter. Our offense -- we've scored 50 points with this offense (prior to arriving at ASU) in a driving rainstorm at the GMC Bowl because our guys didn't react to it. They didn't worry about that and that's the key for us, we just got to go play."

The Sun Devils are 0-2 away from the desert this year, and were 3-3 last year on the road under Graham. The Cougars on the other hand are 2-2 at home.

ASU has not won a late-season game in the Pacific Northwest since Washington in 2008.

Two years ago, ASU traveled to WSU in November and gave up 503 passing yards in a shocking 37-27 loss to a team that won four games all year.

"Two years ago, we don't even talk about that," Graham said. "It don't have to do with nothing. It doesn't matter if it's raining, it's cold or whatever, and all that is, is a mental deal. It's an excuse."

Senior safety Alden Darby remembers the Pullman game with not so fondly, as it was the second of five losses in a row to end a season in which ASU at one point was a league favorite.

"I was so cold that I had so much gear on that I was uncomfortable," Darby said. "I couldn't move I had so much stuff on. This year will be a lot better though. My mindset is different, I'm a senior now and I'm not going to get it back so I'm going to go out there and play no matter what the weather report is.

"Main thing we talk about is going out there my sophomore year none of us wanted to play because of the snow and we were all from California. I know me personally I didn't want to play. I'm like, 'I can't play in this snow, this is too much and I can't do it at all.' This year though we can't think of it like that red light, green light. We're going out there and we don't care if it snows, storms, or typhoons. We're going to go out there and play our game like it's nothing and then get back on the plane and come back to this beautiful weather."

Role players may be more important

When the Sun Devils take the field on Halloween night against Washington State, they may need a little more production than normal from one or more offensive players.

Sophomore receiver Jaelen Strong, far and away the team's most productive player at the position, practiced at less than full strength this week after missing the second half against Washington with an ankle sprain. The team's second-leading receiver, sophomore running back D.J. Foster, was also limited this week due to a knee issue.

ASU's coaches will most likely look to an increased production from tight ends and other receivers. However, players don't seem to necessarily view this as a hard task to accomplish, saying it's just a matter of having a focus of getting it done.

"It's kinda like when your number is called you have to make the play," junior tight end De'Marieya Nelson said. "Regardless if they are playing or if they aren't you have to make the play."

To this point in the season, Strong has accumulated 45 receptions for 685 yards, four touchdowns and an average of 97.9 yards per game. Foster has 36 receptions for 390 yards, one touchdown and an average of 55.7 yards per game.

A player who may be called on to help fill the void is sophomore wide receiver Richard Smith. Smith has underperformed relative to expectations this year, tallying only 10 receptions for 88 yards, zero touchdowns and 14.7 yards per game.

Despite the poor performance thus far, wide receiver coach DelVaughn Alexander has come out and said he still believes that Smith can still contribute at a high level and be a great player. This week, Smith again worked with the first-team after seeing limited game reps in recent weeks.

"It just lets me know that they haven't given up on me," Smith said. "I myself know that I'm much better than the way I've been playing so far this year. It's just on my behalf, I'm working hard outside of film and doing extra things so I can get back to where I need to be to keep making plays for this team."

Another option that fans could see emerge more this Thursday is Nelson. The versatile tight end has the athleticism to potentially stretch the field more and be a larger part of the passing game than the role he currently holds now.

At this point of the season, Nelson has five receptions for 68 yards and an average of 9.7 yards receiving per game, with two touchdowns.

"I think each game from when I first got here I've come a long ways," Nelson said. "Each week I've gotten better with certain situations, certain techniques and remembering plays. I think I've come along pretty well and I'm still coming along.


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