Graham addresses ASU vs. Wisconsin finish, says Devils need to be better vs. Stanford

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By Brad Denny By Brad Denny

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The controversy and debate swirling around the finish of Arizona State's victory over Wisconsin remains strong, but to Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham, the bottom line turned out as it should.

"I do firmly believe the best team won that game," said Graham at his weekly press conference.

Regarding that final play, Graham repeatedly referred to the "human element" during his weekly meeting with the media.

"What happened ... is that when he (Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave) went to set the ball, he kind of slipped, and if you watch the film their guys kind of flinched and everybody jumped on the ball," explained Graham. "I knew right then they were going to have a hard time getting that play off. It was just one of those things that happened and it is the human element of the game."

The Pac-12 issued a reprimand of the officiating crew for their handling of the game's final craziness, but Graham hasn't bothered to pay it much mind, choosing instead to move on.

"We won, we go to the next deal," said Graham. "At the end of the day, I am proud of our guys and they deserved to win. I really believe that, and you check that when you go to the next game."

The wild finish was far from the only topic of conversation for ASU's second-year head coach. 

Graham believed Jeff Duckworth's 51-yard catch on the Badgers' final drive would be reversed, and he also addressed some criticism he faced regarding several of his decisions including passing up a field goal on the game's first drive to attempt (and fail) a fourth and goal, as well as a pair of two-point conversions in the second half. Although he admits he may do things differently in hindsight, he feels it's all part of of the job.

"If I was going back, I would have kicked a field goal in that first drive, and we thought we would have had a walk-in touchdown and we are going to be aggressive," Graham said. "You know if you kick a field goal they boo you, you can’t make everybody happy but you have to go into the game and do what you believe in.

"If you can’t get a foot, then you’re probably not going to win a championship."

Graham also praised running back Marion Grice for his four-touchdown performance.

"He has a great gift running the football and he has an interesting style," Graham said. "Sometimes I look at him and wondering if he’s going full speed because he is going so smooth on his runs."

Wide receiver Jaelen Strong was one of the heroes of the night, catching six passes for 104 yards, including three during ASU's two fourth quarter scoring drives, but Graham also praised his ability to do the things that help teams win that don't show up in the box score.

“I thought he was special," said Graham. "I told you watching his film that he was as good as I have seen on film at what he does. He is only going to get better every week.  That has really helped us to give us an element outside that is really physical and I don’t know if you know this—obviously the 100 yards receiving ,everyone knows that—but his blocking and how physical he is. He is pinning people to the ground."

Looking ahead, Graham's Sun Devils face arguably their toughest test of the year, traveling to Palo Alto on Saturday to face No. 5 Stanford.

Like Wisconsin, Stanford's offense is built around a power running attack, but Graham cautions that the Cardinal are far from a one-trick pony.

"Wisconsin is very similar to Stanford, similar philosophies and styles. I think Stanford is a better football team.

"One of the things that has happened to is that we have spent so much time focusing on stopping the run, stopping the power run is we have to make sure we don’t underestimate the fact that Stanford can throw the football," Graham said. "I have a lot of respect for Coach Shaw and what they do because they are extremely adaptive to their players and I am very impressed with their wide receivers and their quarterback."

While the glow of the victory over Wisconsin and their spot at No. 23 in the polls remains fresh, Graham believes that the truly important games—those in the Pac-12 conference—begin now.

"We do point towards conference, if you asked our players if this game’s more important than any other game, no question," Graham said.

ASU is now 2-0 on the year, but Graham and his Sun Devils are now focused on making sure their conference record becomes 1-0 come Saturday night.