The Arizona State Sun Devils have never been in deep trouble at the quarterback position during Todd Graham’s tenure in Tempe. A predictable battle broke out for the starting gig through the first offseason, and Taylor Kelly emerged as the starter.
He stayed there for three consecutive years, and then passed the torch to Mike Bercovici for one season in 2015, as planned.
In 2016, a four-way battle to earn the starting spot was on deck, featuring talented but inexperienced young quarterbacks. It was not an optimal situation but we knew they all had tools to succeed at the collegiate level, considering the appropriate schemes.
Today, only one is left standing and he is the least experienced.
His name is Dillon Sterling-Cole.
Redshirt freshman Bryce Perkins injured his neck during fall camp and still rehabbing. Redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins was ultimately named the starting quarterback and handled the job with (great) success ; but he sustained a knee injury last week against USC. Redshirt freshman Brady White was thrown into the wild this Saturday against UCLA and did what he was asked to do ; until he suffered a foot injury in the fourth quarter.
Dillon Sterling-Cole was then forced to lead the Sun Devils during crunch time. He did not lose the game but passed the ball once, resulting in an interception in the end zone.
It should not be good news to start its third quarterback at the midway point of the season (to put it mildly), even more if he is a true freshman that set foot on the campus later than anybody else over the summer.
Which is the case of Dillon Sterling-Cole.
You may have wondered at some point why ASU has so many 4-star recruits at quarterback, and keeps offering young talents despite the highly touted signal callers already on the roster.
Well, there you have an answer. For situation like this one.
It is absolutely impossible to predict injuries, their gravity and their rehab. Although it is possible to prepare for any eventuality that may happen during the course of a season.
Having a bunch of 4-star quarterback recruits at your disposal is one way to counter potential threats and challenges.
Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey styled an offense around Manny Wilkins’ abilities in the first place. Over the last week, he had to modify these plans and adapt the offense around Brady White’s abilities, which are not the same.
The results were pretty encouraging, but another injury had to erase these plans as soon as they were drawn up.
Now, Chip Lindsey has a short week to design another offense to fit Dillon Sterling-Cole’s abilities. He also had to take into account that next game is happening away from Tempe, in one of the most feared environments within the Pac-12: Folsom Field.
The trip to the high lands of Boulder is one issue ; having to deal with the best Colorado team over the last decade is another issue.
The Buffaloes were ranked in the AP Top 25 before loosing on the road to USC. Even with this unfortunate event, Colorado remains by far the revelation of the year in the conference after years of sadness and disgrace.
Dillon Sterling-Cole will face a huge test for his first career start.
At this point, this is all presumption. But it seems unlikely that Manny Wilkins will be fully recovered from his knee injury on Saturday (and it is even more unlikely for Brady White). Todd Graham probably learned in the past that starting an injured quarterback is definitely not the solution for success.
The Sun Devils will have to face another challenge. Yes, another.
As surprising as it is, ASU owns a 5-1 record. The lone defeat came against a surging USC squad. It could be a lot worse for a young, inexperienced team which is now down to its third-string quarterback.
The team responded well to adversity for the first half of the season. Comeback wins against Texas Tech, UTSA and Cal are the prime example of mental toughness and adaptability in front of a challenge.
Lately, ASU held off UCLA to earn a fifth win despite turnovers at quarterback and better preparation from the opponents to limit the running game.
Instability at the quarterback position is what teams fear the most. The Sun Devils must go through this path today. They must rely on their offensive coordinator’s creativity to dial up a favorable situation to a player that barely played a down at the collegiate level.
In the end, Arizona State did not earn this 5-1 record with magic. It was not excellent, but it worked. And that is what matters : winning.
Let’s hope Dillon Sterling-Cole can overcome the odds like this team do on a weekly basis.