Arizona State head coach Todd Graham discussed the status of quarterback Manny Wilkins, the Sun Devils’ loss to the USC Trojans, and what he sees in the UCLA Bruins during his weekly press conference on Monday.
Below are the key quotes and notes from his podium session:
On Wilkins’ injury, status and quarterback situation
“Had a positive report on our quarterback,” Graham said. “The X-rays and all that stuff came back good. That was a positive.”
With just over a minute left before halftime during the loss to USC, Wilkins, the Sun Devils’ starting quarterback, was sacked then remained down on the field, grasping his left leg. He was removed from the game and returned to the sideline in a walking boot.
Graham said Wilkins is out of the walking boot, and it doesn’t appear the injury the redshirt-sophomore sustained will affect him for “an extended period of time.”
When asked whether or not he expects Wilkins to play this week, Graham responded with “I don’t know,” but said it isn’t a significant injury.
Meanwhile, Graham says he’s confident in his de facto starter, Brady White. In fact, he said he’s talked to the redshirt-freshman every week about the possibility of entering a game.
“I do think he was prepared when he got in the game,” Graham said. “I thought he did a really nice job. He’s a guy that watches a ton of film, he’s very dependable, very smart, and did a really good job. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
He said once White was settled in against USC, he looked good.
“I was really proud of Brady,” Graham said.
Meanwhile, after White, freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole is listed as ASU’s third-string quarterback.
If White is forced out of a game, and Sterling-Cole is called to action, his redshirt would be burned. In lieu of this, Graham said Sterling-Cole is prepared if his number is called.
“We’ve been preparing him,” Graham said. “Obviously, Brady’s our (number) two guy, and he’s our three guy... depending on how quickly Manny recovers, we’ll get the guys ready that we need to get ready.”
On loss to USC
“After looking at the tape, obviously we were disappointed with how we played,” Graham said. “Gotta give them a lot of credit. They played really well.”
Graham said he felt confident throughout the first three series of game, saying his group did what it needed to do. He said USC brought zero-blitz pressure, and ASU coaching staff failed to adjust well to the Trojans’ defensive plan. Graham said the Sun Devils’ gameplan coming in was to “stay true to plan, and take what they give us.”
“We were doing that early,” Graham said. “I think when we got behind, I guess that made us change a little bit there, but we didn’t adjust very well.”
The fifth-year head coach said he felt confident until Wilkins’ injury and USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s long touchdown catch-and-run.
“We didn’t play well in all three phases,” Graham said.
Penalties also played a role in the defeat, according to Graham.
The Sun Devils conceded 75 yards on five penalties. While four were committed on the defense, the one the offense committed was “catastrophic” moving the ASU offense from its own 44-yard line to later punting out of its own end zone. USC scored on its first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive.
“I think it was 24 points off five penalties,” Graham said. “And all of them were 15-yard penalties, and you can’t have that.”
He was also adamant his team should have scored touchdowns instead of field goals against USC.
“When you’re on the road, you need to score touchdowns,” Graham said. “Instead of getting six points, it should’ve been 14.”
On bouncing back from tough losses
“It’s not something you do that week,” Graham said. “It’s kind of a byproduct of what you do all the time. And that’s not a given, it takes an enormous amount of heart and determination to do that.”
In each of the last four seasons, the Sun Devils have suffered a huge, blowout loss only to recover and turn things around. Graham is hoping his team can do it once again this weekend, but joked, “I really wish we’d just stay where we’re at and not have those deals.”
Graham said his past teams’ ability to overcome a tough week was a byproduct of the program’s culture which is established and strengthened through relationships. One example of that occurred amidst the defeat against USC.
“At the end of that game the other night, we’re trying to take Salamo Fiso out, and no way he’s coming out, no matter what the score is,” Graham said.
Despite the loss, ASU enters the week 4-1 (1-1 in Pac-12) and in good position to contend for a Pac-12 South title. However, a win this weekend is crucial.
On Bandit position rotation, secondary outlook
The Sun Devils’ turnaround will start on the defensive end, which hasn’t played well this season.
During the loss to USC, ASU used four players at Bandit against the Trojans—Laiu Moeakiola, J’Marcus Rhodes, Chad Adams, and James Johnson. It was tough sledding on the night.
“James is not healthy yet,” Graham said. “We appreciate him coming in.”
The head coach went on to say that much of the secondary’s struggles are on the missed tackles, which Graham attributed to resulting from a lack of technique as opposed to effort. The problem has also occurred out on the perimeter at the field corner position.
When asked whether or not freshman Kyle Williams—who was originally recruited as a receiver—could see time at corner, Graham said “we’ll see.” Likewise, he said transfer defensive back Maurice Chandler could see the field once his health progressed.
“We’ll put the best guys out on the field, as we do every week,” he said.
Graham was quick to point out how physical and experienced the Bruins secondary is.
“They’re a team that’s gonna play a lot of man-free,” Graham said. “Very strong up the middle inside, defensively. Like to get after you.”
Offensively, Graham said that UCLA is “very different” schematically this year, and resembles USC’s pro-style offense with a base formation consisting of one or two tight ends.
“Fast. Very, very fast outside receivers,” Graham said of the Bruins’ personnel. “Lot of speed in the inside receivers. If I had to describe it, it would be very similar to USC’s offense.”
There’s one notable difference between the USC and UCLA offenses is who is lining up under center. In Los Angeles, the Sun Devils dealt with a quarterback making his second career start in Sam Darnold; in Tempe, they’ll have to deal with sophomore Josh Rosen, one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
“What makes it work is their quarterback,” Graham said of the UCLA offense. “Is good as there is that we’ll probably play. He makes all of the throws.”
The Sun Devils will face the UCLA Bruins (3-2, 1-1) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. PT in Sun Devil Stadium.