TEMPE, Ariz. – Don’t expect Arizona State head coach Todd Graham to flinch if he’s forced to start yet another quarterback this week. He’s been down this road before.
Of course, Graham would prefer to have Manny Wilkins under center for the Sun Devils. But he is prepared to send third-string Dillon Sterling-Cole onto the field against Colorado.
The latter may not be necessary.
“I anticipate him to play. I don’t know how much. Obviously, that could change, but I anticipate him to play,” Graham said of Wilkins. “If we had to play today, it would probably be a combination (of the two quarterbacks), so we’ll see.”
Wilkins missed last week’s game against UCLA after suffering a lower left leg injury the week prior at USC.
“Hopefully, in a couple of more days he’ll be ready to go completely,” Graham said Thursday. “He threw today. He did the two-minute drill today and looked good.”
The game on Saturday is an unlikely midseason matchup between two of the three teams tied atop the Pac-12 South Division.
Utah would be the third team. They, too, are 2-1 in the conference and 5-1 overall.
A decade ago at Rice, in his first year as a collegiate head coach, Graham used three different quarterbacks just two games into the 2006 season.
Sophomore starter Chase Clement hurt his finger Week 1 against Houston. That forced freshman backup John Thomas Shepherd into action at UCLA. Shepherd, though, was knocked out of the game on the first play. Enter junior Joel Armstrong.
Back then, Graham panicked.
Fast forward to 2016 and faced with the prospects of starting a third different quarterback in as many games, Graham embraces the challenge.
“Players always surprise me. I wish I could take a snapshot of when you walk out on the field and you have Manny get hurt or Kareem Orr gets hurt and I’m going like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is just going to be catastrophic’ — in my mind, I’m not telling anybody that — and then you just see guys that rise up and take it to a different level. That’s what teams with character and synergy do,” he said, before adding the obvious on having to juggle quarterbacks. “It’s been a distraction. I would much rather not have those distractions, but it’s part of it. There’s no excuses. Figure out a way to get it done, that’s kind of our mentality.”
Sterling-Cole, who entered the UCLA game in the fourth quarter following the injury to Brady White, has been working with the first-team offense in practice, while fellow freshman Jack Smith repped with the second team.
Should it be Sterling-Cole, and not Wilkins, who starts at Colorado, then Sterling-Cole will become just the fifth true freshman quarterback to start at ASU.
“Solid,” Graham said of Sterling-Cole’s week of practice. “Obviously, he’s young. He and Jack, both of them had solid weeks, and they have different skill-sets. We’re going to do whatever we got to do to win.”
— Graham had good news on injured defensive backs Orr and Armand Perry. Orr practiced on Thursday, while Perry was limited “but he’ll be ready to go for the game,” Graham said. “I expect both of them to play.”
— Colorado has its own issues at quarterback. Starter Sefo Liufau and backup Steven Montez have both missed time this season. Liufau is dealing with an ankle injury that thus far has cost him two games.
Graham is unsure who ASU will see on Saturday.
“They got two good ones. I don’t know,” he said. “They both have played, and they’re both winners. They both are different. One is them a little bit more read-zone, a little bit more running than the other; and the other one just operates the offense so well. The key is keeping those guys contained, and they’re tough, they’re heady. I mean, they’ll sit in (the pocket) and take it and put it on the money. The key for us is we got to stop the run, and then we got to control the vertical pass.”