ASU’s injuries at the quarterback position resulted in Dillon Sterling-Cole seeing the first significant game action of his career, and the true freshman showed signs of why he was a four-star recruit after struggling through the first three quarters with a number of impressive plays in the fourth. But ASU’s defense couldn’t get off the field in the waning minutes to give its offense another chance, and the Sun Devils drop to 2-3 in conference. What can we takeaway from the loss?
1. We love Manny being Manny, but it’s not sustainable: Look, you can’t take anything away from the heart and grit of Manny Wilkins, and he’s one hell of a football player when he’s healthy.
Even playing gimpy last night, his hurdle over a Wazzu defender en route to the game’s first score was majestic football at its best. Wilkins is an instinctual player, and those instincts propelled ASU to its first four wins. But we’ve now repeatedly seen that as much as his instincts amaze, they end up with him taking shots at a much higher rate than he should. Saturday was another example, as a hard hit on a scramble on his second drive ended his night prematurely.
Unless Wilkins is able to corral his urge to try and turn every broken play into a highlight-reel play, he’s just not going to be able to stay on the field with any consistency. And a quarterback who can’t be relied on to protect himself is a quarterback who can’t be relied on at all.
2. All aboard the DSC train: It was abundantly clear how little ASU trusts its young freshman quarterback to fully-operate the offense.
The play-calling when he was in the game didn’t force him to go through full progressions, and he was often taken out of the game in favor of running the Sparky formation. But when ASU was down late and trying to claw their way back into the game, they were forced into putting Sterling-Cole in the position of having to lead the team down the field.
He made a couple of beautiful throws on the drive that put ASU within five, and if the defense had given the Sun Devils’ offense another shot at it we could very well be talking about his heroics in helping rescue it. With Wilkins an uncertain commodity moving forward, Sterling-Cole has to be looked at to grow into the full-time role and maximize his growth.
3. Is it time to reevaluate program expectations, or is it time to get weary of Graham not meeting program expectations?: Back-to-back weeks have seen consecutive losses to Washington State and Colorado, two programs that Sun Devils have traditionally dominated with Todd Graham at the helm.
ASU’s injuries at quarterback and the improved quality of the Colorado and Wazzu programs can’t be ignored, but it begs the question of whether or not this a precedent that can be set moving forward. Ray Anderson has visions of big things for Sun Devil football, a vision shared and vocalized by Graham.
Losing to Colorado and Wazzu doesn’t exactly fit in that vision. Now, maybe those visions of taking that sleeping giant moniker and shaking it wide awake are too much, that’s a realistic possibility. But if those visions of grandeur are what we should be expecting, we’ve been starved for a little too long.
4. Sparky needs to cool it a little: One 52-yard touchdown from Kalen Ballage and the ASU offense got drunk off success, choosing to use the Sparky formation between the 20’s with moderate consistency after only bringing it out in the red zone during previous weeks. But Washington State bottled Ballage and Demario Richard up from there, including four times on a crucial fourth quarter drive.
After Sterling-Cole found N’Keal Harry for a 22-yard catch that put ASU at the Wazzu 10, ASU went Sparky twice in a row and both runs were stuffed, forcing Sterling-Cole into a third-and-long that wasn’t converted. As much as ASU has been able to run it down the throats of opposing defenses with the Sparky formation in short-yardage situations, they relied on it a little too much Saturday.
5. Stay creative, Chip: Much more effective than sticking to the Sparky formation and running Ballage off the right guard nearly every time was Arizona State’s constant mixing it up with its offensive playcalling. While double-reverses and wide receivers throwing the ball isn’t exactly what you want to see on every down, moving forward the Sun Devils are going to need to take advantage of the skill-sets of their receivers and running backs in space to have any chance of competing with their remaining opponents. Finding new ways each game to get those players their opportunities never hurts.