(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
It’s been a struggle recently for Arizona State, as it has limped through multiple games due to injuries, but none more so than tonight. In the end, the Sun Devils fell 54-35 to Oregon on the road, dropping to 5-4 on the season.
Because of all the action, there was plenty to take away from the contest.
5. ASU’s injury report might have been its ultimate downfall.
Take a quick look at the injury report heading into the game and it wasn’t hard to see that the Sun Devils had their work cut for them. Quarterback Manny Wilkins’ injury was the big story, but in addition to some key secondary members being out, offensive linemen Sam Jones and A.J. McCollum did not play.
Key defensive communicator in linebacker Salamo Fiso also did not play after suffering an injury in the early stages of last week’s game.
Head coach Todd Graham chalked up a lot of the defensive struggles to communication errors.
The most unexpected absence was that of running back Demario Richard, who was expected to play up until the opening kick.
ASU put together a valiant effort considering the circumstances, but the toll the injuries took on the team was apparent.
“I was hopeful we would have a few of them back today,” Graham said regarding the injured players. “We have to do what’s best for the kids, you know, their well being. But I had a pretty good idea that most of them were going to be out. I’ve never had that many out at one time.”
4. It doesn’t matter who they are playing, the Sun Devils defense is not very good.
In only his third career start, true freshman quarterback Justin Herbert carved up the Sun Devil defense like a Halloween pumpkin. ASU was missing safety Armand Perry and cornerback Kareem Orr, and it showed. Fill-ins J’Marcus Rhodes and Gump Hayes struggled in coverage all game long. In addition, Maurice Chandler had a defensive gaffe that led to a touchdown.
Herbert eclipsed 489 yards through the air, a big jump from his previous high of 258. He also stayed turnover free.
In total, Oregon had 734 yards, significantly outgaining the Sun Devils total of 468.
There were questions aplenty concerning ASU’s secondary heading into tonight, and essentially none of them were cleared up on Saturday.
3. Royce Freeman isn’t the only scary running back for the Ducks.
Freeman was ineffective throughout the night, but it was Tony Brooks-James who was the most successful on the ground for UO. He ran for 132 yards and picked up 39 through the air.
The Sun Devils took away the big play factor with Freeman, which plagued them last year, but were haunted by Brooks-James, who had carries for 58 and 29 yards and a 30-yard reception.
2. As most expected, Dillon Sterling-Cole is not the short-term answer at quarterback.
It was unclear what Wilkins’ status was up until game time, and the inconvenience of two other injured quarterbacks put Sterling-Cole in a role that he was not at all prepared for just a couple weeks ago. He got off to a slow start Saturday, but had a few drives where he made key passes down the field, including a 45-yard strike to Jalen Harvey and a touchdown pass to N’Keal Harry.
“I was very proud of Dillon, even though he turned the ball over three times,” Graham said. “I thought he played with great courage.”
“I think he (Sterling-Cole) did a great job,” Kalen Ballage said. “The amount of preparing he did this week, after hours, to come up and watch film, he did a lot of different things.”
The three interceptions are not as much as a worry due to the fact that two of them were during garbage time. His understanding of the playbook is still a work in progress, and the creative wrinkles offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has shown a willingness to sprinkle in were still on display.
1. A win against Arizona might be the Sun Devils only chance at a bowl game.
ASU seemed primed for bowl eligibility after a hot 5-1 start, but three straight losses have put them in a tricky position for the future.
The next two contests are against ranked teams, No. 4 Washington and No. 17 Utah, before closing the season against rival Arizona. Two of the three are on the road, where ASU is just 1-3 this season.
Gone is any chance of the Pac-12 title game, so the focus right now is on this injury-plagued team hobbling into a bowl game.
With a bye next week, Graham has just one goal in mind.
“We’re just trying to keep our team healthy,” he said.