It was a throw he would’ve attempted at 8:00 pm.
Cutting against his momentum after an initial rollout to the right was snuffed out, Brady White scrambled and cocked his arm back in preparation to flick a pass to Tim White, who had come slightly open at the UCLA five-yard line. But rather than risk a dangerous red zone pass into coverage, White made the safe play and took a sack.
Kenny Young’s sack of White ended the ASU quarterback’s night prematurely, forcing his exit with a right foot injury on the fourth quarter play.
Up 23-20 with 11:05 to play, the red zone opportunity represented a critical juncture of the game for the Sun Devils, and the suddenness of White’s injury quickly transitioned into full-blown shock as Dylan Sterling-Cole’s first collegiate attempt two plays after White left the game was intercepted in the end zone.
The 23 points the Sun Devils had scored to that point ended up being just enough, as Todd Graham’s defense successfully dominated on the edges and rattled Josh Rosen en route to a 23-20 victory for the first conference win of the year. Despite that fourth quarter drive ending in ASU’s first red zone turnover of the year, the play that White was injured on still shows as a sign of his positive development.
It was a throw that—had it come in the first half—would’ve been one that White would try to force in.
Making his first collegiate start after taking over last week against USC in a game that had been zapped of its competitiveness by the time he debuted, White’s first complete half of college football saw both him and the Sun Devils offense struggle to find a rhythm.
After completing his first throw to N’Keal Harry, White’s lack of experience became tangible, locking onto receivers without fully going through his progressions and over-emphasizing his touch on the ball.
Arizona State labored to work their quarterback into the game, with a concerted effort to get the ball out of his hands quickly and taking advantage of space in the flat and utilizing run-pass option plays. But the first half remained a struggle, over-throwing White after the receiver threw a wicked double move on the Bruins and was striding alone down the sideline.
His first career interception came in the early stages of the second quarter, under-throwing a deep ball that UCLA’s Fabian Moreau corralled, and the Sun Devils ended the half with four consecutive punts and a fifth drive at the end of the half where Graham allowed 1:42 worth of time drip off the clock rather than push his offense to score.
After a showing in the first half in which he squandered numerous chances at chunk gains, White came out for the second half and in his first drive put all of the first half’s frustration behind him. An 18-yard completion to Jalen Harvey that was thrown on a string set the Sun Devils up with a first and goal at the Bruin 9-yard line, and a pair of Demario Richard rushes took care of the rest as the Sun Devils scored the first touchdown of the night to jump out to a 13-6 lead.
The lead had evaporated by the time White took the field next, with UCLA tying the game at 13 as Rosen returned from injury to throw a 52-yard score to Jordan Lasley. White was plenty-prepared for the moment, executing a seven-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a converted red-zone opportunity.
As the third quarter expired, White stared down Harry in the end zone before firing a back-shoulder strike in triple coverage that Harry was able to contort his body to control, serving as the shining point of White’s impressive second half. The quarterback that had started the game forcing throws and struggling to execute passes to open receivers, had successfully-written a new storyline for himself - a storyline altered once again as soon as he went down.
White’s impressive play against the Bruins stood out as validation of his four-star distinction as a high school recruit, but his injury now puts both his immediate and long-term starting career with the Sun Devils in jeopardy.
As Manny Wilkins continues to nurse a right leg injury, White’s foot ailment and Bryce Perkins’ injury suffered over summer puts Sterling-Cole at the forefront of the conversation for the team’s option at quarterback moving forward. Already having burned his redshirt eligibility by inserting him in the game, the Sun Devils may have to come to terms with the true freshman taking the keys to the offense earlier than expected.
If Wilkins’ injury doesn’t keep him out longer than White’s, the quarterback who started the year for the Sun Devils will earn his starting spot back and the cushion of time to keep him in place at the reins for the foreseeable future.
Or—Sterling-Cole plays moving forward and the quarterback that many thought would be leading the team in 2017 or 2018 ascends to the full-time starting post earlier than that.
That’s not a totally-unideal scenario for the Sun Devils, but for White—who’s nowhere close to reaching his potential as a passer but simply needs the continued opportunity—a play that demonstrated the improvement he made over the course of Saturday’s game may end up being the one that we look back on in a couple years as the window of opportunity shutting right as White was preparing to climb through it.