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Todd Graham: QB Manny Wilkins ‘doubtful’ to play vs. Oregon Saturday

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) runs against Washington State during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
LISTEN: Todd Graham, ASU football head coach

When the Arizona State Sun Devils take the field to face the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium Saturday, they’ll likely do it with another new starting quarterback.

According to head coach Todd Graham, redshirt sophomore signal caller Manny Wilkins doesn’t look like he’ll be able to go.

“He’s probably doubtful, he’ll be a game-time decision,” Graham told Doug and Wolf Friday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “We’ve had quite a bit of the injury bug, but I’ve been so proud of him. He’s showed unbelievable courage. Last week, I think we were up 14-3 with him in there.

“He’s really a tough guy, but we’re not going to let him play unless it’s safe for him to play, so right now, it would probably be doubtful.”

Wilkins is a one-man advertisement for the injury bug that has plagued the Sun Devils (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) this season. He originally suffered an ankle injury in a road loss to USC Oct.1. He then missed the win over UCLA before gutting his way through a loss at Colorado. Last week, Wilkins suffered a stinger in a loss to Washington State and was replaced by Dillon Sterling-Cole, a true freshman.

Sterling-Cole looks to be on deck for his first collegiate start against the Ducks, a team that finds itself in the unfamiliar position of trying to snap a five-game losing streak.

The freshman from Houston saw his most extensive action against Washington State, completing 7-of-16 passes for 86 yards.

“Dillon, for a guy who two weeks ago was running the scout team, you could tell he had some nerves and stuff when he came in,” Graham said. “But once he got some completions, I think that really helped him gain some confidence.

“I thought Kalen Ballage and the other guys around him really stepped up — I’ve never been more proud of my players than the heart they showed last Saturday with the adversity we were facing.”

The Sun Devils got creative in their play-calling to support their inexperienced quarterback. ASU employed the “Sparky” formation on 20 of 59 snaps with Ballage and fellow running back Demario Richard taking turns at running it. Ballage was able to break a 52-yard touchdown run from the formation in the second quarter last week.

Logic says we’ll see more of that formation this week.

“Never in my career have I dealt with this much injury at (the quarterback) position,” Graham said. “That’s football, you can’t worry about it. I’ve been really proud of (offensive coordinator Chip) Lindsey. I think our offensive staff has done a great job.

“What they’ve done a great job of is the mindset of our kids on offensive. We’ve figured out a way. We’ve run a lot of what we call our ‘Sparky’ sets and have been able to generate and move the ball and score.”

Starting a true freshman quarterback is rarely a coach’s first choice — especially when that player started fall camp fourth on the positional depth chart. Sterling-Cole would become the first true freshman to start at game at QB since Brock Osweiler did it in 2009, incidentally, at Oregon.

In case you’re wondering, that game didn’t go so well for the Sun Devils. Osweiler completed 5-of-10 pass for 14 yards and an interception before taking a hard shot and leaving the game in the second quarter. He was replaced by Samson Szakacsy. Oregon won, 44-21.

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