TEMPE, Ariz. -- Two hours into Arizona State's defensive meeting Thursday, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell pokes his head into the room where head coach Todd Graham and his defensive staff are watching film of the day's practice, setting formations and going over the multitude of blitz packages they have concocted for Saturday's visit from No. 20 Wisconsin.
Norvell: "Excuse me, Coach, are we still planning to defer? Or are we going to take the ball first?"
Graham: "Why? Can you guarantee me we're going to score a touchdown?"
Norvell: "I want the ball. I love our first set. We're going to tempo the s--- out of them and run them sideline to sideline."
Graham: "We'll take the ball if you can promise me we're going to score seven. Otherwise we'll just get you the ball with a three-and-out."
Norvell is noncommittal, and the defensive coaches smile and offer a confident snicker. The visit from Wisconsin is a huge measuring stick for the Sun Devils.
Five minutes into Saturday night's game, one of the two coaches will have kept his word, and by Sunday morning, the Sun Devils will have cracked the top 25 after their 32-30 win.
Todd Graham isn't the right coach for every player. Nor is every player the right fit for Graham. He's tough and folksy, as quick with a handshake and slap on the back as he is to call out his players and staff. He's detail-oriented to the point of obsession. And he makes no apologies for it.
After one season at Pittsburgh, Graham became Arizona State's head coach in December of 2011, replacing Dennis Erickson, who was fired after five seasons. When he arrived in Tempe, one of the first things he did was order a complete overhaul of the third floor of the Carson Student-Athlete Center, which houses football operations. Now the hallways are lined with a decade-by-decade breakdown of the program's history. Each position group's meeting room is adorned with the school's greatest players and a history of the position. It's a hit with some of the recruits who are in town for Saturday's game.
There's even a hallway dedicated to Sun Devils football players who have served in the military, with a heavy emphasis on Pat Tillman. Graham, after all, is a former high school history teacher.
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