TEMPE, Ariz. — What a difference a couple of months can make.
When Todd Graham’s Arizona State Sun Devils opened camp over the summer, they had an open quarterback competition with redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins and redshirt freshmen Brady White and Bryce Perkins as the three contenders. Highly-touted true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole was thought to be more of a “quarterback of the future” for ASU.
Perkins suffered a serious neck injury in camp and it was Wilkins who emerged as the starter with White as the backup heading into the season.
After Saturday’s 23-20 win over UCLA that boosted the Sun Devils’ record to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in Pac-12 play, things look a lot different.
Brady White made his first collegiate start in place of Manny Wilkins, who left last week’s loss at USC in the second quarter with a leg injury. White struggled for a good portion of his Tempe debut but completed 19-of-36 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown.
But he wouldn’t be able to finish the game. With 6:24 left in the fourth quarter and ASU leading 23-20, White tried extending what looked to be a broken play on 1st-and-10 at the UCLA 11-yard line. Kenny Young sacked him for a loss of four yards and appeared to land on the quarterback’s ankle and foot while pulling him down on the sideline. White got up, limped for a few steps and then slumped back down to the turf. He was helped off the field and immediately went to the ASU locker room on crutches.
With Wilkins already unavailable, Graham was faced with the possibility of utilizing the “Sparky” formation with Kalen Ballage at the controls. Arizona State used that formation on occasion Saturday and has had success with it. The other choice was to bring in Sterling-Cole and burn the freshman’s redshirt.
That’s what Graham chose.
Sterling-Cole entered in a pressure-packed situation with ASU facing a 2nd-and-14 at the 15-yard line. An ASU touchdown would have pushed their lead to ten, possibly securing the win. A field goal would have pressured UCLA to score a touchdown to win. Sterling-Cole handed off on 2nd down, and Kalen Ballage gained six yards.
ASU wouldn’t play it safe with a freshman taking his second collegiate snap — Sterling-Cole looped a ball into the end zone, trying to put the game out of reach. Instead, his pass was intercepted by Adarius Pickett.
UCLA wouldn’t do anything with their next possession and punted. ASU opted to use Ballage at quarterback for their next three plays, which came on their last possession of the game.
What it boils down to is Graham and his staff opted to burn Sterling-Cole’s redshirt for two plays. Unless, of course, the White injury is serious and Wilkins isn’t ready to return next Saturday in a road game at Colorado.
“None,” Graham answered when asked what kind of update he could provide on White’s injury. “I don’t know — I mean I do know, but I’m not going to say anything right now.”
Later in his postgame press conference, however, Graham did talk about the decision to use Sterling-Cole, burning his redshirt. He said offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey wanted to use Ballage at quarterback just to get through the game and to keep Sterling-Cole’s redshirt possibility alive.
“I wanted to find out what Brady’s status was because we had quite a bit of time left in the game, before we put Dillon in, because we didn’t want to burn his redshirt if (Brady) was going to be okay,” he said. “If he was going to be okay, then we were going to go with the ‘Sparky,’ but he wasn’t going to be okay, we knew he was out for the game for sure, so I wanted to go with Dillon.”
Graham didn’t offer who would be starting at quarterback next week but did hint that Sterling-Cole could be pressed into action against the Buffaloes.
“The best thing is to get him in there and get him going, because he’s going to have to get ready now.”
If White is out and Wilkins doesn’t return, Sterling-Cole would start and Jack Smith, a freshman who is the son of ASU baseball head coach Tracy Smith, would serve as his backup.