(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Throughout the week of practice leading up to Arizona State’s 40-16 loss to Colorado on Saturday, head coach Todd Graham was persistently questioned about the quarterback situation. While remaining non-committal, Graham hinted at redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins and freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole both getting a fair share of time.
As it turned out, it was Wilkins carrying the entirety of the load, and it didn’t work out in the Sun Devils favor. While he wasn’t the only problem, it was not a day to remember for Wilkins.
“It gave us the best chance to be competitive,” Graham said. “He felt like he could go and protect himself. Obviously he wasn’t 100 percent. He might have been 90 (percent), 85 (percent), but that hurt us obviously.”
Wilkins countered by saying he was 100 percent entering the game.
Wilkins had not played since injuring his left leg at the end of the first half of ASU’s game against USC. The quarterback situation had become even direr since redshirt freshman Brady White suffered a season ending injury last Saturday. Rather than opt to use a combination of true freshmen Sterling-Cole and Jack Smith, Graham stuck with Wilkins, who had been a limited participant often during the week of practice.
According to Wilkins, there wasn’t much drama, as he claimed that he knew he was starting all week.
It was reasonable for Graham to lack some confidence in Sterling-Cole and Smith. After all, the former has thrown one career pass, and it was an interception. The latter is listed as a wide receiver, although Smith (the son of ASU baseball coach Tracy Smith) did play quarterback in high school.
“Our other options haven’t even repped at quarterback,” Graham said. “They repped with the scout team. He wanted to play and felt like he could play and he felt he could give us the best option.”
The familiar face in Wilkins ended up struggling out of the gate and never quite got it together. He completed just 13 of his 35 passes for only 149 yards, throwing a touchdown and an interception.
“I have to do a better job,” Wilkins said. “No turnovers, give guys more opportunities to go up and make plays.”
A decent number of his completions came on screens, but he didn’t look right for a good portion of the night.
It was the mobility, or lack thereof, that really hindered Wilkins’ ability. He had nine carries for negative 31 yards, taking sacks into account. The Buffaloes got to him often, sacking him five times and constantly bringing pressure. The offensive line was another group who seemingly never settled in against CU.
Due to Wilkins’ and the Sun Devils’ offensive problems, Graham will only face more questions in the coming days, such as why he stuck with Wilkins despite the constant pressure that posed the threat of further injury.
“He’s alright,” Graham said. “He’s got a lot of courage and heart, but he’s doing okay.”
ASU dodged a bullet on Saturday night, but it’s unknown how Wilkins’ health will hold up for next week. The good news for the team is that it returns home, where it has played significantly better this season.
It seems the hesitancy to use a different quarterback is clear. While it’s understandable, Wilkins’ health has to be in question going forward. The task is on Graham and his coaching staff to protect the well being of their likely quarterback for the next year-plus, while also balancing a win-now mentality that comes with a 5-2 overall record and a 2-2 one in conference play.