(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Injuries pose the constant threat of demoralizing a college football team. On Saturday night, that was the case for the Arizona State Sun Devils.
The injury problems up and down their offense and defense cost them a chance to stay undefeated at home. In the end, they fell 37-32 to the Washington State Cougars.
“We had two starting offensive linemen out, starting linebacker and a starting free safety,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said. “I’m really proud of the guys that stepped up and filled in there.”
Manny Wilkins’ arm injury is the one that has received most of the publicity, and for good reason. His injury issues led to instability at quarterback, as true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole tried, and mostly failed, to keep the Sun Devils in the game. It was a lot to ask for someone who had been primarily practicing with the scout team, but Sterling-Cole simply wasn’t up for the task.
It was the other plethora of injuries that the Sun Devils had to overcome that was just too much to handle against a talented Cougars team.
In addition to Wilkins, ASU’s offense was also missing wide receiver Cam Smith and offensive linemen AJ McCollum and Sam Jones. Tim White missed the majority of the first half but returned for the second.
Smith was dressed but did not get in the game on offense. Even though he has had an up-and-down season, he remains a key piece and was a big loss on offense.
White missed most of the first half after getting injured on the opening kick return. He came back in the second half in a big way, scoring a touchdown on a punt return.
White had been serving as a safety net to whomever was at quarterback of the past few weeks.
Because both were out for a good portion of the game, it made it that much harder on Sterling-Cole to find weapons on the offense.
The loss of Jones and McCollum on the offensive line was naturally a hindrance, but fill-ins Tyler McClure and Zack Robertson played respectably and the o-line only let up two sacks, significantly less than the seven that the Cougar blockers allowed.
“I was really proud of Tyler McClure,” Graham said. “He’s a winner, a champion, a kid that this program is all about. I’m really proud of him. I thought he played great.”
Even though the defense was impressive on multiple occasions, especially when it came to bringing the pressure against WSU quarterback Luke Falk, they had some key pieces that missed time. Armand Perry was questionable entering the game but did not dress or play. Chad Adams took his place at field safety.
The secondary took another hit when starting field corner Maurice Chandler was unable to play.
The most devastating injury came during the game, when Salamo Fiso, one of the defensive leaders, injured his left knee.
“The guys on the field, some of them have been here for four and five years,” linebacker Marcus Ball said. “This program means so much to the guys next to me [Tim White and Koron Crump] but Salamo was a guy that is a role model to this defense. So when he went down, we had a sense of urgency to play for him, and to play a lot harder.”
The ability to rebound for the defense was a positive sign in a game that could have gone a lot better for the Sun Devils.
“We obviously had a couple injuries, a couple guys that didn’t play but just like any program, you have to have the next guy up prepared and he has to be ready to play,” Ball said. “A guy has to be confident in his play. That’s what happens when you practice your butt off Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and you trust your training so you don’t have to make anything go when you play a game on Saturday. You can just go out and be confident in your play.”