“What I tell my players is, you are not going to remember what some person said to you hanging over the rail, you’re not going to remember who had the best tweets or who talked the most trash,” Graham said. “You are going to remember who won the game. That is one of the things that is always a challenge when going on the road, especially in a rivalry game.
“I have coached in some that are pretty hostile and I don’t think there can be one that will be more hostile than this one will be because that is the Territorial Cup. I know what to expect because I have been on both sides and I just try to prepare them and for those that haven’t been just reminder to stay focused and don’t be distracted by all that.”
Even though this will be Graham’s first taste of coaching in the Territorial Cup, the Arizona State Head Coach is already cognizant of this game’s importance. Undoubtedly, the person he learned the most from regarding this rivalry contest is former Sun Devil coach Frank Kush.
“Obviously, he was instrumental with putting the Territorial History up on our wall,” Graham said of Kush. “He has let me know, just like everybody else; that you can be 11-0 and if you don’t win this game, you have had an unsuccessful season. This is what college football is all about, rivalry games. Nothing has more passion than this one.
“I know, hands down, that to our fan base - to the Sun Devil Nation - that this means the most to them and we are working hard to represent them.”
Graham’s counterpart, Arizona Head Coach Rich Rodriguez, will be one aspect of this rivalry game that will actually look quite familiar. The two have coached against each other in the past at smaller schools such as Glenville State and East Central, and also coached together at West Virginia.
Some feel that the relationship between Graham and Rodriguez could further fuel an already heated rivalry game, but the ASU Head Coach was quick to dismiss that notion.
“I don’t think much about that,” Graham said. “Most of us coaches have relationships with each other. Really, there are only 124 of these jobs and staffs and you go and you move and all types of these relationships are intertwined. But I do not think anything about that. What I think about is every face I looked at, every hand I shook, and the passion that was there about this game and how important it is.
“It is much bigger than any individual or any person or anything. It is my job to put our guys in a position to win every week. Obviously, that is a challenge every week, especially in a rivalry game like this. You don’t want to beat yourself by being too emotionally evolved.”
Graham feels that neither coaching staff has an advantage over the other in terms of being familiar with the other’s scheme. Yet, Graham said that he isn’t inclined to go ahead and utilize several trick plays that are often a staple of a rivalry game.
“I used to think that when I was younger,” Graham admitted, “but I just haven’t tricked too many people in my career and won. So, I kind of like just being fundamentally sound and that is what this game is going to be about. I told the players today that it is going to boil down to the team that can block the best, the team that can tackle the best, the team that is most disciplined.
“It is a rivalry game so you can throw whatever else has happened up to this game out and you can look at history and it will show you that. Any great rivalry game, that is how it is. I think what I am trying to do more than anything else is, other than trying to draw up trick plays, I am trying to focus our guys in on the key values and principles that win games and give them every opportunity to in on Friday.”
Many of ASU’s key players will get their first taste of the rivalry game on Friday and Graham discussed the approach he has taken not only with the newcomers but also with the rest of the team regarding Friday’s match up.
“One of the things I have done is not just wait until rivalry week and tell them all about the rivalry,” Graham explained. “What we have done from the time I have gotten here through Camp Tontozona, we have had countless players and coaches talk to us every week, coming in force and very few have not talked about the Territorial Cup and how important it is.
“I think our guys this year have really learned to appreciate what it means to be a Sun Devil and how can you do that without knowing the significance of this game. I think our guys do respect that.”