Don’t worry, the Arizone State Sun Devils’ ode to the great Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is almost over.
Arizona State’s descent from clamoring for a spot in the AP Top 25 after rushing out to a 5-1 start is one bad day in Tucson away from completing what has already been the most disappointing season since the program lost five straight to seal Dennis Erickson’s fate in 2011. The Sun Devils are lost and listless, and the team that has lost five straight this season barely resembles the squad that at the midway point of the year was still in Pac-12 contention.
It’d be way too easy to highlight the bad and harp on how the program expectations that the head coach sets himself have been made a mockery of. And I did that in this space previously this year. This isn’t that type of article. This game was a different animal.
1. The growth we saw from DSC is the same growth we’re not seeing from Manny:
The quarterback competition that Manny Wilkins won coming into the fall wasn’t without strong competition. Bryce PerKinins raised eyebrows and Brady White threw dimes, and there was a sense of uncertainty surrounding Wilkins as the team’s long-term starter heading into the season.
At this point in the year, it’s safe to say his early successes aren’t sustainable - at least not against competition that can match up with ASU physically. ASU’s played its fair share of upper-echelon quarterbacks this season with Jake Browning representing the latest, and the difference in pocket discipline between the two was painfully-tangible. ASU’s speed rushers were able to get around the edge all night, but the interior of the defensive line couldn’t wrap up Jake Browning when he stepped up in the pocket, allowing multiple chunk completion as a result.
When things were flipped and it was Manny who had to work his way up into the pocket while his receivers created separation, he put the ball down and looked for a lane to escape through - lanes that weren’t there. He accepted sacks instead of throwing the ball away, and the game-breaking athleticism that wowed everyone early in the year has been neutered as the year has gone on. It’s hard to criticize Wilkins for the second quarter interception because of the immense quality of the play by the Washington cornerback, but Wilkins stared down N’Keal Harry on the play when he had a free Frederick Gammage open in the flat with room to run for a first down.
As I said earlier, this isn’t about what happened Saturday. This is about a trend that we’ve seen for the past few weeks with Wilkins, where his decision-making and execution has been suspect at best and maddening at worst. The growth simply hasn’t been there. Now, I wrote here after the Oregon loss that I wanted to see Dillon Sterling-Cole end the season as the team’s QB, to both give him a chance to develop as well as Wilkins a chance to heal himself completely. I didn’t say that because DSC was the immediate best option to help the team win, because neither option was going to do much to help the team win this year. But DSC showed tangible growth in that one game in Eugene, and warranted the chance to see if he could grow into a Pac-12 caliber quarterback. Because as the ensuing games have shown, he may be the only (healthy) one ASU has.
2. We saw Wilson, now where’s the others?:
There’s nothing that a developing quarterback needs more than an offensive line that gives him time to make his progressions and a safety net to throw to when he doesn’t have time to make his progressions. That safety net is often a tight end, and ASU has a tantalizing talent at tight end in Jay-Jay Wilson, who was a four-star recruit out of high school in the class of 2015 and has been ignored way too much this year. He broke out with a couple of eye-boggling touchdown snags.
Seeing Wilson get his chance - finally - is great and there should be real excitement towards having him as a building block of the program going forward. But when it comes to the other building blocks, we haven’t seen much of them. Jason Lewis has gone from highly-touted running back to a forgotten player last spotted playing linebacker in practice, Terell Chatman went from being compared to Jaelen Strong as a recruit to a life of invisibility, Jalen Harvey went from four-star recruit to good for four catches every other game and I don’t even know if Tyler Whiley even makes the trips for road games.
These were are recruits highlighted as possible gems of their class, all having been thrown to the curb in a season that demands the talent Todd Graham recruits get the utmost opportunity to prove it can compete at this level. It seems Graham either gets his prized recruits in early and often, or never at all.
3. It’s finally here—Todd Graham’s coaching for his job:
ASU doesn’t want to fire Todd Graham, despite how much the fans clamor. And their desire for patience has to be both admired and appreciated. Let’s be honest and admit that we were drunk off success in 2013 and tripping off of something magical in 2014. We expected that to be the norm, just like that. It isn’t that easy.
But after last season’s debacle in the Cactus Bowl and 7-6 finish, there wasn’t another mulligan season for Graham left. And with the way this year has gone, even the injuries aren’t enough to justify not putting him on the way-hot seat heading into next week’s tilt in Tucson.
For a brief period in time, Graham had ASU at a place where it could walk into the living room of any West Coast recruit and have their pitch heard. That isn’t the case anymore—or at least won’t be when your head coach is a defensive-oriented guy and his defense is on track to break conference records in ineptitude.
These kind of seasons are the seasons that scare recruits away, more than just one class deep. If Graham can’t end the slide next week against a 2-9 Arizona team and ASU ends its season on a six game losing streak to miss postseason play, there needs to be a shock to the system. It may just need to come at the top.