Sun Devils get leg up on Wildcats in rivalry


Sun Devils get leg up on Wildcats in rivalry

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The fast start to the season was great. So was ending a losing streak and sending the seniors off in style in their final home game.

Becoming bowl eligible checked off one of the top goals for the season.

But of all that Arizona State (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) accomplished this season, beating rival Arizona was the one thing coach Todd Graham wanted most in his first season in the desert.

It was about bragging rights, getting a leg up on in-state recruiting, giving a boost to the fans and alumni.

Above all that, the Sun Devils' dramatic win over the Wildcats on Friday night was validation for Graham that his makeover of the program is on the right track.

``It can't be any bigger, just like on the other end of it, if we wouldn't have won, it would have been the worst thing that could have happened,'' Graham said. ``I'm elated. I'm just thrilled to death.''

The win completed a long road of confirmation for Graham.

The former high school coach from Texas came to Arizona State with a reputation for not following through.

Graham spent one season as the head coach at Rice, leaving for Tulsa days after signing a contract extension with the Owls. He led the Golden Hurricane to three bowl wins in four years before heading out for Pittsburgh, a job he believed was a step up.

Graham bolted Pitt after one mediocre season, leaving the Panthers bitter and sending up red flags in the desert for Sun Devils fans who saw their football team as a destination, not a stopover to a better job.

That's when Graham went to work.

Stumping for a job he already had, Graham went around shaking hands and talking to fans like he was a politician on the campaign trail.

Preaching discipline and an up-tempo style that would be fun to watch, Graham managed to generate interest in the crowded Phoenix sports market and beyond.

The Sun Devils lived up to the hype early in the season, playing almost penalty-free and at a pace that left opponents breathless while winning five of their first six games.

Arizona State went through a stretch of adversity after that, losing four straight games before clinching bowl eligibility by rolling over Washington State in its seniors' final home game.

The only thing left was to beat Arizona, which Graham had said was his top priority from the day he got the job.

The Sun Devils did just that, helping their coach land the first blow against rival coach Rich Rodriguez, his former boss at West Virginia, while securing their first winning season since 2007.

``This was definitely a must,'' Graham said. ``This was the first check on the list of the fans when I talked to them: `This game, coach, you better win this game.' So I'm proud to bring it back to them.''

The Sun Devils did it in dramatic fashion.

After a close first half, the Wildcats appeared to be headed toward a lopsided win by scoring 18 points in the third quarter, leading 27-17 and seemingly with all the momentum on their side.

Arizona State quickly snatched it back, scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter for a 41-34 victory at Arizona Stadium.

When it was over, Graham took the Territorial Cup on a victory lap of sorts in the stadium of his biggest rival, giving Arizona State's fans a chance to reach out and touch it.

Inside the Sun Devils' locker room, Graham presented the cup to former ASU coach Frank Kush, someone he has become close to as he's tried to bridge the program's past to the present.

Graham also received a text message from his predecessor, Dennis Erickson, and was nearly hoarse after climbing the narrow stairs from the visitor's locker room to the field where he addressed the media.

``I'm proud of him,'' Arizona State freshman running back D.J. Foster said. ``I know this is something he really wanted.''

The Sun Devils still have some work to do with a yet-to-be-determined bowl next month.

Whatever happens, this first season under Graham has been an unqualified success, if only for that one game - the one the coach wanted the most.

Quick Links

‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

USA TODAY Sports Images

‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

Perhaps no position group on the Redskins has more questions or uncertainty than the wide receivers.

Josh Doctson enters the final year of his rookie contract, and has yet to record over 550 yards in any of his three professional seasons. Washington signed Paul Richardson to a five-year deal in 2018, but he just played in just seven games for the Burgundy and Gold in 2018 before having season-ending shoulder surgery. Second-year receiver Trey Quinn is expected to fill the role in the slot after Jamison Crowder departed for the New York Jets this offseason but has yet to prove anything on the NFL level. 

The Redskins addressed the position during the 2019 NFL Draft, selecting Terry McLaurin in the third round and Kelvin Harmon in the sixth round. But it's unclear how much either one will contribute to the Washington offense in 2019.

So, it's likely the Redskins will need to address the position during the 2020 NFL Draft, and probably very early on it. Well, this works in Washington's favor, because the 2020 wide receiver class is loaded. 

On a recent episode of the Redskins Talk podcast, J.P. Finlay and Pete Hailey spoke with NFL Draft expert Jordan Reid (no, not the Redskins' tight end) about the top wide receiver prospects heading into next year's draft, and which players the Redskins could potentially target.

Before diving into the top 2020 prospects, Reid gave an initial assessment of the current Redskins' receivers.

"The Redskins just don't have that headliner, top go-to guy," Reid said. "They were expecting Josh Doctson to be that when they did draft him in the first round of 2016. But he's had some injuries, and he's already come out and said he's looking forward to free agency. That just not something you want to hear."

Reid was high on McLaurin, though, the first receiver the Redskins selected in 2019.

"They drafted Terry McLaurin in the third round, I liked him a lot even going back to the Senior Bowl," he said. "I think he's going to have a really good year, not just as a receiver but the special teams phase as well. He's going to flash in a lot of ways."

As far as the 2020 draft wide receiver class, one school stands on top, and it's a school the Redskins are very familiar with: Alabama. The Redskins used their first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 on 'Bama guys and signed another Crimson Tide alumni this offseason in safety Landon Collins.

"We know the Redskins love Alabama guys, and there's a lot of [wide receivers] coming out this year," Reid said. "It's not just Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs is another guy that's getting a lot of steam. They're going to have the chance to get the receiver they want. This is a very special wide receiver class."

Crimson Tide receiver Jerry Jeudy is the consensus top receiver in next year's class, but Reid believes his speedy teammate could challenge him for that spot by season's end.

"With Ruggs, I think he's a bit more as far as polished a route runner [than Jeudy]," he said. "I think his hands are a bit better, and I wouldn't be shocked if he runs below a 4.3 at the combine. He can absolutely fly."

If the pair of Alabama receivers currently hold the top two spots for best wide receiver prospect, there's another guy who's right on their heels: Oklahoma's Ceedee Lamb.

"He reminds me a lot of DeAndre Hopkins coming out," Reid said on Lamb. "He's not a thick guy, but he plays much stronger than what he indicates. Very reliable hands, and his body control is out of this world. He had a one-handed catch against UCLA, it didn't count, but it's truly amazing."

As a true sophomore, Lamb totaled 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018. Sure, it may have helped to have Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray under center, but Lamb has proven he's an elite talent.

Two other prospects Reid is keeping an eye on are Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. and Texas' Collin Johnson.

"He's not as polished as some of these other guys, but he's more of a do-it-all type of receiver," Reid said on Shenault Jr. 

Where Shenault may be a do-it-all receiver, Johnson plays to his 6'6 size.

"He's a really good route runner," Reid said on Johnson. "It's just a matter of how consistently can he separate, and how fast he is. If he goes to the Senior Bowl, I think he can light it up."

While many of these guys seem like sure-fire guys, there's still a full season of football to be played before the draft. Players will rise, but just as many, if not more, will fall off.

"You just have to let this play out, that's what happens with the draft process," Reid said. "Guys fall off, and then you have guys that come out of nowhere. Quinton Williams from last year is a prime example. He was a 270-pound defensive end at this time last year; we had no idea who he was and he ends up being the No. 3 overall selection."

But if everything plays out close to how it's expected to, this wide receiver draft class will be one to remember. 

"This class is special man," Reid said. "I think it's going to rival 2014, with Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and all those guys, Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams too. It's going to be very similar to that. It's very special."


Quick Links

Natasha Cloud is tired of the Bradley Beal trade rumors

Natasha Cloud is tired of the Bradley Beal trade rumors

Mystics guard Natasha Cloud has had it up to here with trade rumors about Wizards guard Bradley Beal.

Beal has been a strong vocal supporter of the Mystics and the WNBA, in general. He works closely with Kristi Toliver, who, in her offseason, works as an assistant coach for the Wizards. His closeness with the Mystics has now manifested itself in Cloud voicing her opposition to Beal being traded on Twitter.

Beal is no stranger to trade rumors. Entering his eighth season, Beal has been connected to the Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, among others. Given that his name is frequently tossed around in trade talks, it should come as no surprise that the Clippers made a run at him to pair with Kawhi Leonard.

Despite the frequent and recurring rumors, Beal hasn't been traded, and very likely won't be traded. He's a star and a legitimate piece around which to build a franchise. At the summer league in Las Vegas, NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes sat with Shaquille O'Neal to discuss what the Wizards should do in free agency. Shaq said that between Beal and John Wall, the Wizards are just a piece or two from breaking through.

I definitely think [the Wizards] should keep him. He's a great shooter, but if he’s a great shooter looking to go somewhere, L.A. has $32 million [in cap space]. ... He's definitely the cornerstone of this franchise. He and John Wall have always, almost always, been there. They just need another one or two guys.

It's still unlikely that Beal is playing in anything other than a Wizards uniform on opening night, but if he is, expect to hear from Cloud about it.