TEMPE, Ariz. — When Arizona State opened spring camp, coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey insisted that the battle for the starting quarterback spot was a three-man race between redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins and redshirt freshmen Brady White and Bryce Perkins.
Six games into the season, the Sun Devils may have to turn to true freshman — and quarterback of the future — Dillon Sterling-Cole out of necessity.
Perkins suffered a neck injury early in training camp that he is still rehabbing. Starter Manny Wilkins suffered a knee injury in last week’s loss at USC that sidelined him this week. Backup Brady White suffered what could be a season-ending foot injury in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 23-20 win over UCLA at Sun Devil Stadium.
White had to be helped off the field and Graham did not sound optimistic about his chances of returning anytime soon. When asked who would back up Sterling-Cole if neither Wilkins nor White were ready to go next weekend at No. 21 Colorado, Graham smiled.
“Mike Graham,” he said. “That’s my 14-year-old (son).”
The backup will actually be freshman receiver Jack Smith, but the Devils are praying their depth chart won’t have to dig quite that deeply.
“Hopefully we’ll have Manny back,” Graham said, “but we’ll figure out a way.”
The amazing thing about these Sun Devils is they are finding ways. ASU entered the game with a quarterback (White) making his first college start, the nation’s 121st ranked defense and the nation’s 128th ranked (dead last) passing defense.
ASU did allow 444 passing yards to UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen and backup Mike Fafaul, who relieved an injured Rosen for a bit, but the Sun Devils held the Bruins’ rushing attack to minus-1 yard, they sacked UCLA QBs five times, they intercepted three passes and they recovered a fumble.
“Don’t get me wrong,” said safety Marcus Ball, who had a team-high 10 tackles and an interception.
“Brady White stepped up and threw some tremendous passes and the receivers made some tremendous catches but we knew to win this game we were going to have to bunker down and play some tremendous defense and that’s what we did in the second half.”
That may be doubly true in the coming weeks if ASU is forced to play Sterling-Cole, whom the team had hoped to redshirt this season but instead used for two plays and one pass attempt on Saturday, an interception in the end zone that nearly proved costly. In spite of the dire present circumstances at QB, the Sun Devils — tabbed to finished fifth in the Pac-12 South in the preseason media poll — are sitting at 5-1 at the midpoint of the season and 2-1 in conference play, which gives them a share of the division lead with Colorado and Utah.
“I am just really proud of our football team,” coach Todd Graham said. “I don’t think many people thought we would win tonight, but we did. I challenged our guys not to listen to what other people say because all that matters is the turnout of the games. UCLA ended up with minus-1 rushing yards and we had a championship defensive performance.”