ASU head coach Todd Graham addressed the media during his weekly Monday press conference, touching on several topics ranging from key injuries and absences, as well as his team’s performance.
On quarterback Manny Wilkins’ health
“There is not much of any updater as of now. Obviously, he got pretty banged up so he will be on a day-to-day and a week-to-week basis.”
Wilkins left the game vs. Washington State after suffering a “stinger” while taking a sack at the end of the Sun Devils’ second offensive possession. He did not return to the game. The redshirt sophomore had previously suffered a high left-ankle sprain against USC which kept him out of ASU’s game vs. UCLA, and limited him against Colorado.
On starting center AJ McCollum’s late scratch
“AJ was a personal matter this week and we will see how that progresses.”
McCollum was a last-minute scratch ahead of ASU’s loss vs. Washington State. It left the offensive line featuring just two of its original five projected starters against the Cougars. Graham didn’t clarify what the reason for McCollum’s absence was, however...
Just my opinion: AJ McCollum's situation seems disciplinary.— Doug Haller (@DougHaller) October 24, 2016
Haller is not alone in thinking this.
On starting left guard Sam Jones’ injury
“We are hoping that Sam will be okay this week, but he will need to make some progress through the week.”
Jones, who wore a boot over his right foot this week at practice, was unavailable for ASU vs. Washington State.
On starting linebacker Salamo Fiso’s health
“Salamo will also be questionable, but it wasn’t anything severe for him.”
Fiso suffered a knee injury vs. Washington State and didn’t return. The senior had already been held out of the first three games of the campaign due to suspension.
On QB Dillon Sterling-Cole’s performance
“He doesn’t have the foundation or a strong number of first team reps through the summer and spring ball. I thought he did a solid job and he got better as the game went on. I was really proud of the effort that he went out there and gave. Dillon made some fantastic throws. Once he got a few completions under his belt, he got better as the game progressed.”
Sterling-Cole played in place of Wilkins and finished the night having completed 7 of 16 passes for 86 yards against Washington State.
On his running backs and run-heavy, Sparky-centric gameplan
“I was also really proud of Demario and the other guys around him on offense who stepped up. Kalen and Demario worked a lot with our different packages and special plays. Using them for our Sparky formations really helped us.
“Coach Lindsey did a great job with creating versatility. One of the challenges with a new quarterback is the lack of flexibility with plays because you don’t have the chance to master a lot of them. Obviously, when Manny was in there, things were going really well and him leaving the game really hurt us. One of the most exceptional plays I have seen was Manny’s effort to score early on that read option. That was pretty phenomenal. On that play, Demario Richard’s effort was also pretty incredible because he went down there and blocked about three different guys.”
The Sun Devils snapped the ball 20 times while in the Sparky formation vs. Washington State (by quarter: 2, 4, 8, 6). Ballage (12 carries, 82 yards, one touchdown) and Richard (five carries, 19 yards) combined to rush for 101 yards on 17 carries (5.94 yards per rush) while running the ball out of the alignment.
On team’s showing vs. Washington State
“I think offense, defense and special teams all had exceptional heart and effort. We shut down the run game and made them one-dimensional, which is what we wanted to do. We gave up two fades for a touchdown that we didn’t execute properly, but I thought our guys played with tremendous heart.”
The Sun Devils held the Cougars to a net total of minus-52 rushing yards.
On shuffling at bandit, SPUR roles, and secondary play
“I thought Marcus (Ball) has played outstanding. He really has done well. I think Laiu (Moeakiola) played outstanding.
“The key for us is to build on their play, obviously Armand (Perry) being out hurts and 90 percent of the time we play well at corner then we’ll give up a big play and that was the difference.
“I think Marcus has been really good. Laiu has been kind of the leader for that group. I think that it’s hard to say, for the most part, I think those two guys have played very consistently and we’ve played well at corner at times then gave up plays where we don’t have good technique.”
Starting field safety Armand Perry was held out of the loss to Washington State. Starting at bandit safety, Ball recorded a team-high nine tackles, including one sack.
On missed turnover opportunities
“We had an opportunity, we had a ball on the ground, we don’t get possession of it. We had an opportunity for a couple of picks and we come out with zero turnovers.”
In the fourth quarter, Devilbacker Koron Crump forced a fumble, however defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood was unable to pick up the ball while trying to recover the football. Starting boundary corner Kareem Orr and field safety Chad Adams collided on an errant pass by Cougars QB Luke Falk which could have been intercepted.
On Tim White’s punt return touchdown
“He’s another guy that’s been banged up. I mean he had to go in after he missed part of the first quarter. Absolutely courageous. He is one of the toughest players I’ve ever coached. That punt return was phenomenal, not just by Tim. It was an absolutely extraordinary effort by him, but also the blocking and the execution of our guys.
“That was pretty incredible play and Tim is a very courageous performer and player. A guy that has great toughness and very explosive so I was excited to see him do that. Tim coming back and returning the punt for a touchdown was huge in the game and it shows the heart and determination of those guys because it was 11 guys on that play. Now it took an extraordinary talented returner to get us there, but all 11 players executed on that return for a touchdown so I was proud of how they did that.”
White recorded his first score of the season when he returned a punt return 70 yards vs. the Cougars.
On conceded kickoff return touchdown
“On the flip side it, the kickoff return for a touchdown, we should have had him pinned within the ten yard line and so again you just have a few people that are not taking care of their responsibility. That play (Dasmond Tautalatasi) and J’Marcus Rhodes were inside the 25 when the ball was caught so we had great effort, but that play cost us, that was a tough play.”
The Sun Devils relinquished a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown vs. Cougars—the first points of a 28-0 run by Washington State.
On facing Oregon after 61-55 3OT defeat last year, facing Ducks this year
“I don’t think our guys think about last year very much.
“Obviously, they are very talented team offensively. Their wide receiver core is great and they probably have the best running back core in the conference. Offensively they are explosive and they can really hurt you, but their defense has struggled. They are very dynamic on special teams. Nelson is the best punt-returner and kick-returner that we will face. Obviously, it will be a difficult place to play, but we have to get on the road and play well.”
The Sun Devils will travel to Eugene, Ore. this weekend to take on the Ducks at 2 p.m. on Pac-12 Network.