COLUMBIA — Going into Saturday’s game against Missouri at Memorial Stadium, Arizona State coach Todd Graham doesn’t want his team to be distracted by the hostile environment.
The air fresheners should help.
Graham thinks his team, which has jumped out to an impressive 2-0 start under the first-year coach, will be more comfortable playing on the road if it maintains the same routine as home games.
Same practice schedule. Same play calls. Same signals. And yes, same smells.
“In our locker room downstairs, our equipment guys plugged air fresheners into the wall so the locker room smells better,” Graham said during Tuesday’s Pac 12 teleconference. “Well, we take the same air fresheners on the road because we want the locker room to smell the same.”
“We use the same signs, try to make everything as same as it can be. We have the same practice routines. Everything stays the same except for instead of staying at a hotel here, we’re staying at a hotel on the road,” he said. “We try to keep everything as normal as possible, and just not get distracted.”
Graham acknowledges that the transfer of locker room smells can seem like a petty thing to an outsider. But he stressed that when you come into uncommon territory, any familiar component can serve as a source of strength.
This weekend, Arizona State won’t be able to go through the home routine that resulted in a season-opening 63-6 win over Northern Arizona, followed the next week by a 45-14 triumph over Illinois.
Sure, the crowd will be draped in gold, just like they are inside Sun Devil Stadium during home games. But the reception will be staggeringly different, and Graham doesn’t want his players to let that get inside their heads.
“We walk out of here at Sun Devil Stadium and everybody’s cheering for us. I’m comfortable here. After two games, I’m comfortable in this stadium. I feel like this is my stadium,” said Graham, who led Pittsburgh to a 6-6 record in his lone season as head coach in 2011.
“We go on the Devil Walk, and we go into Wells Fargo," Graham said. "There’s a routine that you go through. Then you go on the road and walk through the tunnel, and it’s a little different. They’re not cheering for you.”
Graham will have to wait to see how his two inexperienced quarterbacks handle that lack of cheering.
That’s right, two quarterbacks.
Sophomore Taylor Kelly is the starter, and thus far the 6-foot-1, 203-pound passer has thrown for 496 yards, two touchdowns and completed 76.7 percent of his passes. Redshirt freshman Michael Eubank, the more athletic of the two, will also get snaps under center, and he has contributed two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns in the first two games.
But though the frenzy of Missouri support inside Memorial Stadium might present problems for Arizona State, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel also acknowledged that his team did not handle the atmosphere as well as they could have in last week’s SEC opener.
While a road team can be shaken by a cascade of boos, a flurry of support can also knock the home team off kilter, Pinkel said.
“If you’re too high, you don’t play well," Pinkel said. "If you’re too low, you don’t play well. I think I could have helped our players more in terms of talking to them about it, educating them about it … about not getting too hyped up. If anything, I don’t think I did a very good job of that in terms of preparing our team.”
On Saturday, the victor could be determined by who adapts to their environment the best. Missouri will have all of the external support, with 70,000 fans packing Memorial Stadium and urging their team to avenge last season’s 37-30 overtime loss to the Sun Devils in Tempe, Ariz.
As for Arizona State?
If nothing else, they will have air fresheners.